The beach in the summer may not seem to be an ideal place where much work gets done.
But to coach Bob Bertucci it was the perfect place to train for the upcoming season. While spending two weeks in Ocean City, NJ, the Owls used the popular vacation spot in a variety of ways. The team developed chemistry by running on the boardwalk, kayaking and living together in an apartment where the players cooked and cleaned together.
This type of bonding could be necessary as the Owls enter the year with some question marks. After playing with the same starting lineup the past four seasons, they open this year with only two starters from last year.
Like the start of last season, Bertucci’s squad is struggling to find itself. In 2003 the Owls began the season with five straight losses.
With less injuries than last year, the Owls are in better physical shape now, than throughout all of last season.
“Being in shape is a plus for us,” Bertucci said.
Although they played aggressively in last weekend’s Temple Classic, the Owls (0-3) were soundly beaten in all three matches without winning a set to the likes of Ohio State and North Carolina.
Last year Bertucci attributed the slow start to poor workouts, now this year they’re plagued with inexperience.
Fortunately, Atlantic Ten Setter of the Year Alison Runk, is back for her final season as the team’s most experienced player.
“When Alison is on her game, she is one of the best setters in the country,” Bertucci said. “We will be looking for her to help lead this young team and bring some of the more inexperienced players along at a faster rate.”
The other key returnee is 6-foot-2 senior middle blocker Zhen Jia Liu. While she has struggled with injuries since arriving here, Bertucci said her play will be important to the squad’s success.
“Zhen Jai was a top junior player in China and has that international experience that is an intangible,” Bertucci added.
Colleen Egan and Maureen Whitsett are the only true freshmen on the squad. Egan, a middle blocker, is the tallest player on the team at 6-foot-3. However, both are coming off injuries they sustained prior to arriving at Temple.
Moreover, Bertucci brought in three transfers, all from China. While the coach didn’t mention their names he said the newcomers should be ready to join the team by next week.
Junior middle blocker Stephanie Buynovsky showed promise last season with 161 kills, but she blew out her knee and is still rehabilitating. Though her condition has improved, she did not train with the team this summer and will likely be out for the season.
During the off-season, Bertucci’s program endured coaching changes as well. There will be two new assistant coaches helping Bertucci on the sidelines. The candidates are still going through the University’s interviewing process. The previous two assistants left for personal reasons, with one moving back to his hometown in China to start a computer business.
In 2003, Temple was viewed as the favorite to win the A-10 title and ended up falling one win short of that goal to eventual champion Dayton. No longer do they have that target on their backs, but the Owls believe they can get back to dominating conference play again.
“Our first step is to make sure we’re in the final four teams in the A-10,” Bertucci added.
Runk and her teammates hope the excellent training camp and good physical shape will be sufficient for the lack of experience on the roster.
“We’re going to put our heart and soul out in the court,” she said.
The Owls will travel throughout the country playing in tournaments in Wisconsin, Washington D.C. and Connecticut before beginning conference play against Duquesne. The first conference home game is Oct. 8 against Dayton.
Donnell Jackson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.