The volleyball team dropped its 10th-consecutive match this weekend to Atlantic Ten Conference opponent Rhode Island.
The Rams swept the Owls, 3-0, in straight sets behind the pinpoint hitting of middle hitter Lauren McIntosh with 10 kills and outside hitter Kayla Wilson, who had 13 kills and 12 digs. They were able to attack the weak side of Temple’s defense – one of the team’s weaknesses this season.
“They knew we were small on the left side, so they ran their offense over our small blocker,” coach Bob Bertucci said.
The loss drops the Owls to 4-23 and 1-12 in the A-10. It’s been a long season for the team, which has had to learn to gel together as a unit.
“Honestly, I’ve never been more frustrated,” senior middle hitter Jess Antosz said. “I think it should’ve clicked earlier than we have, but it just didn’t work out.”
Much of the season’s struggles have revolved around the play of junior setter Rikia Trischuk and the new chemistry with the team. Trischuk, who recorded 19 assists against Rhode Island, was thrust into the starting position after junior Liz Prang was sidelined early in the season after fighting through leg injuries.
“We had [physician for Temple athletes] Dr. [Ray] Moyer check her out and through the whole medical thing, found out that she had stress fractures on her tibias,” Bertucci said.
Prang was set to be the starter during the off-season, replacing Temple’s all-time assists leader, Jackie Morrison, who graduated last year. The injury derailed the plans, and the Owls had to resort to their back-up setter, Trischuk.
Trischuk realized it’s difficult to take over a team in the absence of a player as talented as Morrison. Antosz said there has been a noticeable difference in leadership between Morrison and Trischuk, a first-year player, who has been forced to learn on the fly.
“Her biggest strength is she’s improving every time she goes on the court,” Bertucci said. “Her play right now is light-years ahead of where it was when she took over the spot for Liz.”
Trischuk struggled to learn how to work with everyone on the team. The setter is the equivalent of a football team’s quarterback. Her job requires her to pick a play before the serve, take a pass – no matter how poorly placed it is – and turn it into a playable set, deciding before she passes the ball whether to execute the pre-planned play or check down to a safer option.
Then, she makes the set and puts herself in position to dig up any opposing volley – all while constantly watching for weaknesses to exploit in the opponent’s defense.
“There’s lots of pressure regardless,” Trischuk said. “Being the setter, that’s the role on the court. You have to take control and place the ball.”
But it takes a team to learn how to play with one another, not just one player.
“It’s hard on her just because she’s new and has to adjust to all of us, and for us, we have to adjust to one person,” Antosz said.
The connection between Trischuk and her middle hitters has been hit-or-miss this season, despite Antosz’s solid outings every match. Most of the offense has been run through outside hitters where Trischuk is the most comfortable. Freshman Elyse Burkert, who had six kills against Rhode Island, and senior Ashley Carr has received the majority of the kill attempts this season.
Trischuk’s improvement, coupled with Prang’s return from injury the past few games, will make for an interesting battle heading into next season.
“Well we definitely have to get Liz healthy. That’s the first thing that has to happen,” Bertucci said.
Bertucci said he would love to have a healthy Prang back next season but could not commit at this point to calling her the starter next year.
“We have a setter coming in already for next year, and we have both [Prang and Trischuk] coming back, so we’re going to have a lot more depth in that position,” Bertucci said.
With three setters in the mix for next year, it’s unclear who will take control of the offense.
“I don’t know,” Trischuk said. “Every year is something new, so we’ll see what happens.”
In the meantime, the Owls will finish off the season with matches against A-10 rivals Xavier and Fordham over the weekend and a Thanksgiving weekend match against Central Michigan.
Jake Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.