Temple’s showing against Penn State was a statement of what’s to come

It may not have shown on the scoreboard, but Friday night was a significant victory for Temple Volleyball.

Setter Ava Blascziek prepares to serve in the third set of Temple's 3-0 loss to Penn State. This was Temple Volleyball's first game at The Liacouras Center. | LILLIAN PRIETO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple Volleyball (6-2, 0-0 American Athletic Conference) lost to No. 12 Penn State (4-2, 0-0 Big Ten) in three sets Friday, but the score is not nearly the full story of the game.

The Owls continued to add to the record books on Friday by having one of the hottest starts to a season and becoming the first team in program history to play at The Liacouras Center. For a young team rebuilding after recent lackluster years, the game served as a benchmark for the program.

Tickets for the game against the nationally-ranked Nittany Lions, who went to the third round of last season’s NCAA Tournament, were in high demand. Temple Athletics announced on Aug. 16 they were moving the game to The Liacouras Center.

“To sit here and to see almost 2,500 people in the stands is such, I try not to get emotional about it because it’s so awesome to see,” said Temple head coach Linda Hampton-Keith. “We have a really unique and amazing volleyball community here in Philadelphia. I’ve never been anywhere that has that.”

This game followed last week’s match between Nebraska and Omaha on Aug. 30, which broke the record for the highest attended women’s sporting event ever at slightly more than 92,000 people. The Owls drew more than 2,400 people to Liacouras on Friday, which filled half of the lower bowl and made for a loud environment.

“I think I was proud more than anything,” said outside hitter Olivia Vance, who transferred to Temple from Toledo in the spring. “We have the capability to bring out a crowd like that in this venue. What we have here at Temple that we’re constantly building on every day and what the future holds is just really exciting.”

This game meant a little extra to the players on the floor because of underwhelming play in recent seasons. Hampton-Keith is in her second year as head coach, and the Owls had just one winning season in the four years before she got the job. Last season, Temple won just 10 games, including only four in conference play.

The players had a confidence problem and focused on proving others wrong instead of proving themselves right, Hampton-Keith said. Friday’s game seemed to prove the opposite.

“What I saw was them coming into their own and getting comfortable in their spacing in getting and owning themselves, our team and our performance,” Hampton-Keith said. “What you saw was what we get to see every single day: our team just fighting and fighting like they always do.”

Two years into Hampton-Keith’s tenure, the Owls have broken multiple records. Temple won 13 straight sets to open the year, the team’s best start in more than 45 years. Their 6-2 record to start the season is also the best since 2020-21, which was shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Led by outside hitter Taylor Davenport, who has already won AAC Offensive Player of the Week this season, the Owls have improved all around.

Temple has made significant strides in a short period of time, and Friday was the showcase of growth.

“We can step on the floor with anyone and compete,” Hampton-Keith said. “You learn a lot about yourself when you just let it roll, let it rip, and you learn that we’re right there and we can compete with anyone on any given night.”

The Owls showed fight in the third set. After losing the first two sets 25-9 and 25-15, Temple started off set three by taking its first lead of the game. Penn State took back control, leading by as much as 20-14, but Temple rattled off seven straight points to take a 21-20 lead and get the crowd to its feet. The score went back-and-forth before Penn State closed the game out to win 27-25.

“Penn State is high-level volleyball,” Vance said. “I think it’s great that we get to play a team like that and get to see what are some areas we can work on. This is not the end of the season. We’re not gonna go home and cry about it. We’ve got a lot of things to work on and learn about watching film.”

Moving forward, the Owls have a new level of confidence. Backed by a fresh crop of supporters, Davenport feels her team can make an impact on the AAC this season.

“We’re still very young,” Davenport said. “It’s been a great season, but it’s still just beginning. We haven’t even touched conference play yet. We have to continue to learn from every game that we’re playing in wins or losses. We’re still learning, we’re getting back into the gym, working hard, figuring out what we can do next just to be better.”

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