They are the crucial, make-or-break part of a team’s season. Win a lot of them and you can punch your ticket to postseason play. Lose, and you’ll get left behind in the dust.
For the volleyball team, a two-game road trip to George Washington and Charlotte last weekend offered them the opportunity to open Atlantic Ten Conference play on a high note and stabilize a 4-12 start to the season.
After losing to George Washington and beating Charlotte, the Owls are 1-1 in the A-10. Things could be better. They could also be worse.
Friday’s match against George Washington provided a golden opportunity, as the Owls faced a Colonials team they had beaten in 18 straight matches over a nine-year span.
Temple fell behind George Washington early, however, as junior Liz Moult and freshman Katie Zulandt posted six and four kills, respectively, in the first two games. Bolstered by a large crowd at the Smith Center for parents-alumni weekend, the Colonials jumped to a 2-0 lead.
But the Owls responded, rallying to even the match at 2-2 thanks to the efforts of Liu and Ariel Pierre. Liu had half of her 22 kills in the critical third and fourth games, while freshman Pierre chipped in 24 of her 42 assists during the same time span.
Temple’s comeback came up just short, though, in the decisive fifth game. The combination of a late kill by George Washington’s Abby Syverson and a Temple attack error let the Colonials off the hook after the Owls had taken an early 8-4 lead.
Despite suffering such a heartbreaking loss, the Owls used that momentum to rebound on Sunday and sweep a Charlotte team that had lost only once at home this season. Sporting a much taller lineup than that of the Niners, the Owls received key contributions from Yue Liu, Patricia Vernon and Yun Yi Zhang, all of whom had double-digit kills. Zhang was the star of the game, committing only two errors with her 20 kills and helping her team snap a three-game losing streak.
After a string of 13 road matches, the 5-13 Owls return home this weekend to face 16th-ranked Dayton and Xavier, the only two teams currently undefeated in A-10 play.
Friday’s game against Dayton could prove to be Temple’s biggest of the season. The Flyers are off to their best start ever and have the nation’s best record at 17-0. Of those 17 matches, nine have been 3-0 sweeps of their opponents, including seven of the last eight.
In order to repeat last year’s success and advance deep into the A-10 tournament, the Owls know they will need to beat perennial contender Dayton and earn one of those coveted conference victories.
Jennifer Reardon can be reached at email@example.com.