Top-50 defenses to meet in volleyball’s AAC opener

Wichita State is nationally ranked in its first year in The American and is coming off a win against then No. 8 Creighton University last weekend.

Senior outside hitter Izzy Rapacz bumps the ball during the Owls' win against Boston College on Sept. 8. | CHIA YU LIAO / FILE PHOTO

Temple (4-4) will play its highest ranked opponent of the season to begin American Athletic Conference play. Wichita State (8-3), ranked 24th in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll, will visit McGonigle Hall for Temple’s cherry-out game at 7 p.m. The match will be the first meeting between the two schools.

“We’re excited about the opportunity and excited to start our conference schedule here at home against them,” coach Bakeer Ganesharatnam said. “Wichita State is a top-25 program, and they’re playing a really competitive schedule. It’s great to have such a competitive team in our conference.”

Although it is Wichita State’s first year in The American, it made its impression on the league before the season even started. The Shockers were picked as the conference favorite in The American Preseason Coaches’ Poll with seven first-place votes and 116 points. Temple placed third in the preseason poll with 101 points.

When the teams meet on Friday, expect a competitive battle at the net. Both are ranked in the Top 50 of Division I in blocks per set. The Owls average 3.02 blocks per set, which ranks 14th, while the Shockers rank 44th with 2.54 blocks per set.

The top three block leaders in The American are all from Temple. Junior middle blocker Iva Deak, senior outside hitter Izzy Rapacz and senior middle blocker Janine Simmons all are averaging 1.36 blocks per set heading into Friday’s play. The player averaging the fourth most blocks per set in The American is Wichita State redshirt-freshman middle blocker Emma Wright at 1.19 blocks per set.

Senior outside hitter Izzy Rapacz bumps the ball during the Owls’ win against Boston College on Sept. 8. | CHIA YU LIAO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

The Shockers also have the reigning conference Defensive Player of the Week, redshirt-freshman libero Giorgia Civita. She leads the conference with 5.51 digs per set. As a team, Wichita State ranks No. 42 in Division I in digs per set with 16.74.

Offensively, the Shockers top The American in kills per set and hitting percentage. Wichita State is currently averaging 13.69 kills per set on a 24.3 hitting percentage and is led by junior outside hitter Tabitha Brown, the conference’s kills leader. Brown transferred from the University of Alabama after she averaged 4.15 kills per set during her freshman season. Brown has recorded a double-double in five games so far this season.

The Shockers are coming off a weekend where they played two ranked opponents and came away with a 3-1 victory against then No. 8 Creighton University. The upset is The American’s only win against a top-25 opponent.

“If you’re going to bring in somebody to the conference, we want them to be good,” Simmons said. “Wichita State is a strong addition to the conference. Whenever you have a home opener against a really great team, everyone’s excited and it always ends up being a great game no matter what.”

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