For the Temple volleyball team, Xavier was no problem. Neither were La Salle, Rhode Island or even George Washington, who leads the Atlantic Ten Conference in overall win percentage. In fact, the Owls (13-7, 9-1) have dismissed all of their A-10 opponents rather easily this season with the important exception of the Dayton Flyers, whom they finally overcame, 3-2, last Friday at McGonigle Hall.
Dayton entered the afternoon undefeated in conference play and has been barreling through the A-10 with a seven-game win streak, including a victory over Temple in early October. Only the most focused team, executing under a well-organized game plan, would be any match for the 18-7 Flyers.
On Oct. 31, Temple was that team. The victory tied the two teams for first place in the conference.
“Unless we beat them today, there was probably no way we could win the conference in the regular season,” said Temple coach Bob Bertucci. “It’s also important for our confidence level, however, believing that we can beat this very good, physical team.”
The win reaffirmed Temple as one of the top teams in women’s volleyball.
After advancing to the NCAA Sweet 16 for the first time in the school’s history last year, the Owls faltered at the beginning of this 2003 season, dropping their first five games at the North Carolina and Ohio State Invitationals. Although the Owls started rolling after a short home stint, their momentum was halted when they visited Dayton Oct. 4. The 3-1 loss was difficult to take, but the team’s leaders maintained that the defeat was important to the Owls’ maturation.
“When we first played at Dayton it was the first time we’d really had our starting team together,” said Bertucci, whose squad was hindered early in the season by injuries to junior Liu Zhen Jia and senior Charity Hill, the team’s returning leader in blocks. “Today, we had a few more matches under our belt, and this match is proof that we’re getting better every day.”
Alison Runk, last season’s A-10 Setter of the Year, has rarely taken the court without being the spotlight player of the match. With the target placed squarely on her back, Runk has only improved on her sophomore-year success.
Through the end of October, Runk is the conference leader in assists at 12.35 per game, including 70 in the match against Dayton.
“We just played into their hands in the first game, so we realized we had to do something different,” Runk admitted. “Coach worked with us a lot. Whatever errors we made in the first match, we weren’t making them again.”
Outside hitter Yamit Haba, one of six seniors on the roster, agreed this is a very different squad than those of years’ past, and a much better one than the 5-6 strugglers who fell to Dayton earlier in the year.
“I’m pretty pumped,” Haba said immediately following the game. “The last three years, the years I and all the seniors have been here, we’ve lost to Dayton here [at McGonigle], so it’s about time that we beat them in our house.”
Haba is part of the vital international contingent that accounts for nearly half of Temple’s roster. Outside hitter Xu Yun, the reigning A-10 Player of the Year, and the aforementioned Liu Zhen Jia hail from Shanghai.
Starting outside hitters Liu Shu (Tianjin, China) and Haba (Israel), as well as Ontarians Margaret Majewska and Danielle Bablich, have joined with their U.S. teammates to dominate the A-10.
“Temple gives a quality education to anyone and everyone, regardless of race, color, creed or anything else,” Bertucci said. “So with that as the philosophy of Temple, it made sense to make it our philosophy to demonstrate the same cross-section. We try to get young, physical U.S. players who will learn and develop from playing against premier players like Yamit Haba, Xu Yun and Liu Shun.”
“We’ve gelled,” Runk said, describing the key to this season’s success.
“We’ve got all these girls, from all over, playing as one unit.”
For Temple, their effort, practice and hardships throughout the season culminated in the Dayton victory as emotions of excitement and reward.
“Awesome game,” Haba said before being hurried off to the locker room after the game. “We beat this team, so now I think we can beat anybody. Awesome, awesome win.”
Benjamin Watanabe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.