With the schedule now released for the upcoming women’s volleyball season, the challenges the team faces transitioning into The American Conference have become more apparent.
In the Atlantic 10 Conference last year, the University of Dayton was the only school that qualified for postseason play. But, in The American, there are four teams that qualified for postseason play last year.
“I think the biggest challenge as we move conferences is the opponent,” head coach Bakeer Ganes said. “They will be more athletic than the teams that we have faced in the Atlantic 10 over the years. Schools like Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis, SMU, UConn and Houston are going to be Temple’s new opponents year in and year out. [They are] definitely teams that have more pedigree then most of the Atlantic 10 teams we have played over the years.”
The season kicks off with the University of Buffalo Invite on the last weekend of August, and then the Patriot Invitational at George Mason University the following weekend. Then the Owls come home to host the Temple Invitational starting on Sept. 20, which will be the fourth straight season that they will be holding the event.
Conference play starts with big road tests against Cincinnati and Louisville. The Cardinals are coming off a 2012 campaign in which the team garnered a 30-4 record, finishing 17th in the Division I coaches poll. The Owls then play five straight home games, opening with Memphis on Oct. 4. The schedule also includes a five game road trip in which the Owls play three teams with better records then Temple’s last season. Temple plays its final two matches in late November against the University of Central Florida and the University of Southern Florida.
According to Ganes, winning home games will be key to succeeding this season.
“When we play at home, we need to focus on picking up some wins because it is really going to be tough to get wins on the road in this conference,” Ganes said. “We have to take advantage of being at home for a while. Then we have to hope that we do the best we can on the road.”
The Owls are coming off a bounce-back season in which they went 19-11, which includes 11 more wins than the team’s 2011 total. Ganes said he does not want to get caught up in how well they did last season because he knows it’s a clean slate this year with a new conference.
“We have to be careful on setting high expectations for this year,” Ganes said. “It is a new conference and it is a new team that we have. A lot of new players are coming in and we will have to implement them into what we do so our team chemistry is where we want it to be.”
“We are going to take it game by game,” Ganes added. “We don’t really know what to expect with going into a new conference. We have to see how we will function as a team.”
Temple will have to rely on its upperclassmen to lead the team, most notably senior Gabriella Matautia, who is coming off an Atlantic 10 Conference first team selection and a career high 437 kills. Also, senior Elyse Burkert will be an essential piece for the team, as she comes into the season having started all 30 games last season and recording an impressive 426 kills.
Ganes said, “The upperclassmen are going to play a big role. They know the program, they know how we train, and most importantly they know how to win. The two people that probably stick out are [Matautia] and [Burkert]. We have big expectations for them, not just on the court but off the court as well—to be leaders for the young girls coming onto the team and to basically be a role model for the other players.”
For Ganes, when it comes to previewing the upcoming season, it is all about looking at the big picture.
“We really need to improve every year as a program and evolve as a team,” Ganes said. “That’s the main thing for us. If we get that accomplished, I hope we can gather some wins, but I am not concerned about setting a goal number of wins or coming out saying we are going to win the conference or anything. If we can improve and make the team better, everything else will play out on its own.”
Rich Fogel can be reached at email@example.com.