When sophomore middle blocker Jennifer Iacobini went up for a kill with the first-set score 24-23 in favor of Temple, the crowd heard two successive thuds- that of her hand connecting with the ball and the ball connecting with the court.
And that was all the crowd, and the Owls, needed to hear to take control of the match against Rhode Island, their first Atlantic 10 Conference challenge of the season.
“I know her head was in the right place,” senior libero Chelsea Tupuola said of Iacobini’s set point heroics.
Temple came out flat against the Rams, falling behind 7-1 in the opening set due to a defense that had trouble digging and returning serves.
“Their first serves were really good serves,” junior outside hitter Elyse Burkert said.
“We didn’t track really well, a little slow to start,” Tupuola said. “Had to pick ourselves up again.”
Despite the deficit, the Owls rallied to within a point on multiple occasions in the first set before drawing their first tie, 23-23. And one point later Iacobini sealed the comeback with a strong swing on a slide to the middle. They would close out the match in straight sets, winning 25-21 and 25-18 in the last two, starting out the conference season 1-0.
“The position as a middle blocker you don’t get a lot of opportunities, because your primary function is to get block,” Ganes said.” It’s a very unthankful position. But when you do get sets you have to put the ball down.”
Iacobini contributed in both facets of the game, recording three blocking assets and knocking down eight kills of her 14 attempts. She didn’t post an error, hitting .571 on the night.
Once Iacobini closed out the first set the rest of the Owls took over. Burkert and fellow junior outside hitter Gabriella Matautia combined for 30 kills on 73 attempts. Burkert tacked on 10 digs for yet another double-double on the season.
The final two sets were all about the defense, however. After struggling to contain the Rams’ offense Tupuola and company regrouped.
“We definitely passed better and I think [sophomore setter Tiffany Connatser] opened up the offense a lot more,” Tupuola said. “She was running the middle a lot more.”
Despite the strong closing to the match, the Owls said they must improve their energy at the start of the match.
“I definitely know we all focused on this week,” Tupuola said. “No excuse for that start, at all.”
Multiple times in the past few weeks the Owls have dug themselves a whole early and scrambled to salvage the match. Each time, including a 3-1 win over Central Connecticut where they lost the first set, they came out on top. But coach Bakeer Ganes said he knows it will come back to bite them.
“I think it’s really how we approach the match,” he said. “We really have to make sure we approach the match in a different way, more professional.”
Temple will get a chance to start faster on Saturday when they host Fordham in their second A-10 match of the season. Start time is set for 7 p.m. in McGonigle Hall.