In a marquee clash between conference leaders, Temple volleyball collected its ninth straight win over a feisty and talented Rutgers squad three-games-to-one in a non-league match-up.
The scores of the games were 5-15, 17-15, 15-10 and 15-13.
According to the NCAA News Poll, Temple and Rutgers (17-4) were ranked second and third, respectively, in the Northeast Region. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish (14-4) are the top-ranked team in the region, and 20th in the nation. The Scarlet Knights are currently tied with the Irish for first place in the Big East and will travel to South Bend this weekend.
“Rutgers must have gotten a tape on us,” Temple coach Bob Bertucci said. “They had us scouted well and they had a game plan. As soon as we made the [proper] adjustments, we were able to get back on track and put the pressure on them.”
Temple senior outside-hitter Brandi Best led the Owls (12-6) with 17 kills, and 13 digs. Last week’s A-10 Rookie of the Week, Yamit Haba, also posted 13 kills and a game-high 15 digs.
Senior leader Alma Kovaci, noticeably troubled by the sore ankle, recorded 13 kills and nine digs in the game.
After losing the first game to the Scarlet Knights 15-5, the ensuing game was the turning point for the Owls. With Temple down 12-9 and staring at a possible 0-2 deficit, senior leadership kept the Owls in the game as Kovaci and Maria Vutskova made clutch kills down the stretch.
Vutskova’s last kill of the game, which sent the home crowd into a frenzy, tied the game at 14-14. Kovaci scored the last two Temple points to win a nail-biter 17-15.
The win sent Temple into the locker room at intermission tied 1-1, and chomping at the bit to finish off Rutgers on the Owls’ home floor.
The Scarlet Knights didn’t fold easily. They put up a gutsy performance until the very end, but just couldn’t recover from losing the second set, as the Owls won the next two sets and claimed their sixth McGonigal Hall casualty in seven home matches.
The loss could be detrimental for Rutgers coach Ann Leonard-House and the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers plays in a loaded Big East Conference that includes at least five NCAA Tournament prospects.
With the automatic bid only going to the conference tournament champion, the other four teams will have to jockey for position at the end of the year.
A win over Temple, widely regarded as the Atlantic 10’s top program, could have been just what the team needed to convince the selection committee in November.
“They [Rutgers players] knew for a fact that this was an important match and we didn’t do our job,” Leonard-House said. “If we and Temple both need an at-large bid, Temple will have the tiebreaker because they beat us.”
The Owls also won two conference games last week defeating the University of Massachusetts three-games-to-one and the Rhode Island Rams three-games-to-two.
Kovaci played a significant role in both victories, despite Bertucci’s intentions of playing her in a reserve role. She recorded 50 total kills in the two games.
“What I wanted to do was bring Alma in gradually around game two or game three, figuring we will be up a few games,” Bertucci said. “But we got in trouble [early] in both games and I had to throw Alma right into the fire, opposite of what I wanted to do.
“It worked, but it made Alma have to work twice as hard.”
Temple continues conference play this Friday at McGonigal Hall against the Duquesne Dukes at 7pm.