This weekend the volleyball team looks to defend its house against 2004 Atlantic Ten Conference co-champions Xavier and Dayton on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
As if the team needed more motivation for big wins, all three teams enter this weekend tied atop the league with 6-1 records in conference play.
The Owls fell hard to both teams last year, getting shut out in every match.
“There is an inherent rivalry there,” said coach Bob Bertucci.
In his 11-year tenure at Temple, Bertucci has seen the Owls go 14-9 against Dayton, and 13-12 versus Xavier.
“Even when we’re winning, its still Xavier and Dayton” as the Owls’ top concerns, Bertucci said.
As the Owls (13-8) prepare to take on the two A-10 titans this weekend, their sights are still fixed on the bigger picture.
“My prediction is if anyone comes out of this weekend with two wins they will qualify for the Atlantic Ten [tournament],” Bertucci said. “If we can beat [them], we’ll qualify. That’s the goal.”
That’s quite a daunting goal. There is enough pressure to go around, and several role players, including junior setters Linsey Morningstar and Maira Mogollon, said they are feeling it.
It’s only natural, Bertucci said, that Morningstar and Mogollon feel pressure.
“These are two of the best teams we’ve played,” Mogollon said. “[Linsey and I will] get here at least a half hour before practice to work out, to be ready.”
The Owls are undefeated at McGonigle Hall this season. Having two-time A-10 Rookie of the Week Patricia Vernon adds to the Owls’ total offense on their home floor.
“I’ve never played them before, so I have to look at it as another game and work on my consistency,” Vernon said.
If it isn’t already obvious, this weekend’s home matches are probably the Owls’ most important of the season. Wins and losses this weekend could determine who plays for the A-10 crown.
Since Bertucci took over as coach in 1995, the Flyers, Musketeers and Owls have nearly evenly split their season series. Due to the addition of Charlotte and Saint Louis, Temple will only face these A-10 rivals once in the regular season. In previous years, the Owls faced them twice each.
Winning the regular season series will provide the Owls with confidence come tournament time, Bertucci said.
“We need to get it done now,” Bertucci said. “They’re going to be much tougher in the tournament on a neutral court.”
Dayton (13-9) has a height advantage over the Owls, who will need to post big numbers in both blocks and kills if they are to win. The front line for Xavier (14-7), however, will be looking up at the Owls in terms of height.
This week the Owls will work on playing big and playing fast, something they have tried to do in every game this season.
“The competition is getting tougher; now we’re getting deep into the schedule,” sophomore middle blocker Christina DeMarco said. Last season, DeMarco admitted, Xavier and Dayton were two of the team’s toughest matches.
This weekend will be a difficult one for the Owls, who have averaged big numbers in both digs and hitting so far during conference play.
The players will rely on the crowd’s energy as much as their own.
“It’s definitely an entire team effort,” Bertucci said. “But being at home is important. We feed off the crowd.
Senior middle blocker Danielle Bablich will be making her third appearance Friday since spraining her medial collateral ligament earlier this season.
Bablich said she will look to toughen the Owls defense against a quick Xavier team and a large Dayton line at the net.
“These are going to be really good games,” Bablich said.
Danielle K. Milner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.