With star player Alma Kovaci out with an ankle injury, Temple volleyball coach Bob Bertucci had the opportunity to find out whether his Owls were a good team, or a great team.
The Owls proved the latter as they defeated the Xavier Musketeers three games to none in a team effort on Saturday. The scores were 15-7, 15-10 and 15-12.
The win caps a two-match home series that included a three-games-to-one win over Dayton the night before, and puts the Owls (4-0, 7-6 overall) in sole possession of first place in the Atlantic 10.
“I think both wins were real important for a couple of reasons,” Bertucci said. “Both teams were [preseason] ranked in the top three in the conference, and both teams were undefeated.”
Kovaci sprained her ankle Friday night against Dayton when she landed awkwardly on a teammate’s foot. She recorded her 34th kill of the game on that final play.
Without last season’s A-10 player of the year, the scoring was spread evenly between a number of players the following night. Senior outside hitter Maria Vutskova started in Kovaci’s place and established her presence on the court early. She led Temple in kills with 17, and baffled the Musketeers with a wicked jump serve throughout the game.
“Alma is the most important player on our team,” Vutskova said. “Sometimes people think that because she is such a great player, we are winning mainly because of her, so we all had to step up and prove that we are [still] a good team even without Alma.”
Sophomore Sara Stone and senior Theresa Schumacher also helped pick up the slack for the Owls. Combined, they contributed 13 kills, and 41 assists.
Despite Kovaci’s absence, the Musketeers (10-5, 4-1 conference) never seemed to gain any kind of momentum in the game. Junior outside hitter Jill Hampton led Xavier with nine kills, three digs and one service ace.
“Obviously Temple is the team to beat in the A-10,” Xavier coach Floyd Denton said. “Knowing that Alma wasn’t out there, they all played with a sense of urgency and we didn’t.
“They have players out there that play to win.”
Unexpectedly, Xavier led all three games in the early stages. The Musketeers held a 2-0 advantage in game one, and led again at 6-5.
But Vutskova and Stone sparked the Owls as they broke open a close game by winning 10 of the last 11 points.
Xavier led 5-3 in the second game, but Temple rallied again to tie the game at eight before eventually taking control and winning it, 15-10.
In a pendulum-like third game, Xavier once again grabbed an early 3-0 lead coming out of intermission. Then Temple retaliated with eight straight points. Xavier refused to wither away and eventually came within one point (13-12) in the waning moments, but Temple sealed the game by scoring the last two points as they defeated their 20th A-10 opponent in the last 22 regular season games.
With wins over George Washington, Dayton and Xavier, the Owls have probably tackled the three toughest teams in the conference. That bodes well for them in November, when the A-10’s top four teams travel to Dayton, Ohio, to compete for the conference title and a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Temple plays its next home match Friday night at 7 p.m. against the Fordham Rams at McGonigal Hall.