Volleyball’s momentum building as Wichita State looms

The Owls have won 10 of their last 11 matches since losing to the Shockers.

Senior middle blocker Janine Simmons (center) attempts to block an attack during the Owls’ 3-1 loss to East Carolina at McGonigle Hall on Oct. 6. | MIKE NGUYEN / THE TEMPLE NEWS

After Temple’s 3-1 loss to a ranked Wichita State squad on Sept. 22, coach Bakeer Ganesharatnam still said his team had one of its better-played matches all season.

Even now, with the Owls in the midst of a seven-game winning streak, Ganesharatnam still ranks the match among the team’s best.

Against Wichita State, Temple hit 25.3 percent, matching its season average. The Owls average 13.9 kills per set, a mark they only missed in the fourth set against the Shockers.

Since the Wichita State match, Temple (14-6, 10-2 American Athletic Conference) has won 10 of its past 11 matches.

“We played really well against Wichita State,” Ganesharatnam said. “Just because we lost to them didn’t mean we needed to make big adjustments moving forward.”

Since its performance against the Shockers, Temple has been focusing on being more consistent, Ganesharatnam said. The loss to Wichita State, which is ranked 21st in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll, came down to a small margin between points and errors, he added.

Temple had a season-high 28 attack errors against the Shockers, who only made 13. The Owls haven’t made more than 22 errors in a match since, and are averaging 17 errors per match during their seven-game winning streak.

The team’s consistency has been a product of the communication Temple has improved during conference play, senior middle blocker Janine Simmons said. The Owls are second in The American by virtue of their head-to-head win against Southern Methodist on Oct. 22. Wichita State is first.

“We had to figure out who we were as a team,” Simmons said. “We had different lineups, so that’s also going to factor into communication, but our ability to adjust to other teams has gotten a lot better. We’re making adjustments in our offense and adjustments in our defense that make a difference overall in the entire game.”

The Owls have specifically improved on “one of their weaknesses” of defending tip shots as a result of better communication between the front row and back row, Simmons added.

The Owls recorded 61 digs against Wichita State. The only time Temple has had fewer digs since then was in its sweep of South Florida on Oct. 13. The Owls had 42 digs against the Bulls in just three sets.

“Every match is different and every opponent is different, so we make adjustments based on that,” Ganesharatnam said.

The Owls have also worked on rotating different players into the lineup. Freshman middle hitter Baleigh Jean-Philippe came off the bench late in the match against Southern Methodist.

The Owls led two sets to one and had match point when Jean-Philippe stepped onto the floor. Two plays later, Jean-Philippe swung a kill directly at Southern Methodist’s middle blockers for the match-winning point.

“Being mentally prepared for the games helps us a lot to do better,” Jean-Philippe said. “That’s just something that we’ve been focusing on in practice.”

The team has capitalized on its recent schedule of games, which will help Temple “prepare for more difficult ones in the future,” Jean-Philippe said.

Five teams Temple has played on its seven-game winning streak have losing records in The American. Southern Methodist and Cincinnati are the only two teams Temple has beaten during the streak that have conference records above .500.

The Owls lost to Wichita State and East Carolina, the other two teams in The American that have winning records.

After conference cellar-dweller Memphis on Friday, the Owls will play at Wichita State on Sunday. Then they’ll play a match in Dallas against Southern Methodist on Nov. 9.

Ganesharatnam has stressed to his players maintaining the streak should not be a primary concern.

“I know people are excited about the streak right now but if you look at this conference for the last three years, you have to win more than 15 games to win the conference,” Ganesharatnam said. “We knew [a winning streak] was going to have to happen in order to compete for the first two or three spots, so it’s not a big deal for us in the locker room. I really emphasize on focusing on the next match. If we do that, the streak is going to be OK, and we’re going to put ourselves in a good position.”

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