Volleyball faces Wichita State to start play in stronger AAC

The Owls open play in The American Friday against first-year league foe and perennial power Wichita State.

Senior outside hitter Irem Asci serves to Boston College during the Owls’ home-opening win on Sept. 8. | CHIA YU LIAO / THE TEMPLE NEWS
Senior outside hitter Irem Asci serves to Boston College during the Owls’ home-opening win on Sept. 8. | CHIA YU LIAO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

For the past three seasons, Temple has been a top-three team in the American Athletic Conference. Despite being competitive in its conference, the Owls have not played in the postseason since 2002.

Even with a Ratings Percentage Index ranking of 47 in 2016, Temple failed to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. With the addition of Wichita State to The American in July, Temple may have a stronger chance to play postseason volleyball for the first time in 15 years.

The Owls (4-4) open conference play against Wichita State on Friday at 7 p.m. in McGonigle Hall. The Shockers (8-3) will be Temple’s first opponent that has received a ranking this year. The Shockers are ranked No. 24 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll.

Wichita State upset No. 8 Creighton University on Friday. Beating the Shockers would give Temple a quality win and RPI boost to start league play.

The American had the sixth highest RPI of any conference last season. The addition of Wichita State may boost the conference’s reputation for the selection committee, coach Bakeer Ganesharatnam said.

“For us to open the [conference] season with them is actually really positive,” senior outside hitter Dara Peric said. “We get to see who they are and they get to see who we are.”

Wichita State previously played in the Missouri Valley Conference, a league it dominated. The Shockers have won 20 or more games in 14 consecutive seasons and are on pace to do so again.

The Shockers are coming off a 24-8 season and NCAA tournament appearance. The Shockers are one of three teams in The American that played in the 2016 NCAA tournament. Southern Methodist and Cincinnati earned seeds in the tournament after finishing as the two best teams in The American, respectively.

Bakeer Ganesharatnam's Conference Record
2016 15-5
2015 15-5
2014 15-5
2013 9-9
2012* 8-6
2011* 4-11

*Atlantic 10 Conference

Wichita State’s experience and skill provide a good test for Temple to see how well it measures up against a proven veteran team, Ganesharatnam said. The Shockers returned four starters, including senior middle blocker Abbie Lehman, a three-time honorable mention All-American.

“[Wichita State] adds a lot of competition and speed to the conference,” senior outside hitter Izzy Rapacz said. “We’ve done research on them and heard about them. Them getting added to our conference is a privilege. It makes our conference that much better.”

The renewal of a second playoff tournament also gives Temple a higher possibility of playing in the postseason.

This year, the Women’s National Invitational Volleyball Tournament Championship will be reinstated. The NIVC was originally introduced in 1989 as a 20-team tournament after high demand for another postseason tournament within the volleyball community. The tournament lasted until its discontinuation after the 1995 season.

The 2017 revival of the NIVC will feature single-elimination games in a 64-team field. The 64 teams selected to play in the tournament will be announced on Nov. 26 after teams are selected for the NCAA tournament. The NIVC will select the best team from the 32 conferences that didn’t receive NCAA berths and offer 32 at-large bids to the top remaining teams.

Had the NIVC existed from 2014 to 2016, a span when the Owls won 74.5 percent of their games, Temple would have been near the top of the field.

Though the NIVC’s reinstatement gives more teams an opportunity to play for a championship, Temple has its eyes set on the NCAA tournament.

“We never talk about it,” senior middle blocker Janine Simmons said. “Our goal is very much set on the NCAAs. It would obviously be great to play postseason volleyball anywhere, but definitely our team goal is to play in the NCAA tournament.”

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