Weak finish ends playoff hopes

The Owls started the season strong, but struggled late.

Coach Bakeer Ganes had specific goals for the Owls’ first season in the American Athletic Conference.

“We wanted to be at least .500 in the conference,” Ganes said. “And we wanted to at least have 19 wins because we had 19 wins last year, and we wanted to see if we could get the same number.”

The Owls did accomplish one of those goals – the team finished the season with a conference record of 9-9. However, a loss to Central Florida in the last game of the season left Temple with a final record of 18-12.

“We were hoping we could do a little bit better than [our goals],” Ganes said. “But overall, for this team to compete in the first year in this conference, it’s still a good, good season for us. We made some good progress with the team, and we had some freshmen playing and getting some playing experience.”

Temple was swept in its first non-conference match at Buffalo, but then picked up seven straight wins. After returning home, the Owls took two out of three at the Temple Invitational. They finished non-conference play with a 9-3 record, and looked strong heading into their first games in The American, where they had been picked to finish seventh in a preseason coaches’ poll.

The Owls split the first two road games and then won five straight at home, sweeping Memphis, Connecticut and Rutgers.

But in the final stretch, playing mostly on the road, Temple went 3-8. The Owls’ overall road record was 5-8.

“I think we did really well at the beginning of the season,” sophomore setter Sandra Sydlik said, “And unfortunately we were losing most of the games in the second part, especially when we were away. So I think we have to work on that, just stay focused over the whole season, keep playing smart, even if teams are adjusting on our plays. But in general I think we can be proud of us. It’s a big conference, huge teams, and still we were winning a lot of games.”

Despite late season struggles, Temple finished sixth in The American with the fourth best overall record. Senior right-side hitter Gabriella Matautia attributed the Owls’ success this year to hard work.

“I think we knew what we wanted to do this season, and we pushed each other and worked together to achieve our goals,” Matautia said.

“I think we have a lot of talent,” senior outside hitter Elyse Burkert added. “And sometimes it just makes winning seem easy when we’re doing it right. It just flows and it works really well because we have a lot of very good players on this team.”

But with Burkert and Matautia graduating, the program will be losing two crucial players. Burkert had more than 1,000 kills and 900 digs in her Temple career, and Matautia achieved more than 1,200 kills and nearly 900 digs.

Even so, Ganes is optimistic about the future.

“We’ve got some good recruits coming,” Ganes said. “That’s going to increase the talent level on this team. And with the experience the freshmen gained from this season, hopefully we’ve got some good things coming.”

The Owls had four freshmen on the roster this year, and nearly all of them saw significant playing time.

Freshman outside hitter Tyler Davis, who played in 22 of the Owls’ 30 games this year, said she was impressed with the season and confident about next year.

“I think it was a really good season to come in on,” Davis said. “It was really fun to play with the girls, and it was a really good experience. I think just with time and playing together, we’ll all learn how to play with each other and just be mentally stronger.”

Junior middle blocker Jennifer Iacobini also said hard work and the progress of the freshmen are important to the team’s success.

“We’re a really young team,” Iacobini said. “So we’re going to build a lot and get a lot of new girls, and I think we’ll be a lot stronger. The freshmen that started are going to get a lot more experience, and hopefully we’ll finish higher next year.”

Don McDermott can be reached at donald.mcdermott@temple.edu. 

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