Temple has had a rough start to the Spring 2018 season, in no small part due to injuries and illnesses.
The Owls (2-4, 1-1 American Athletic Conference) won their first contest of the season, 7-0, against Morgan State University on Jan. 19.
Temple didn’t have a full lineup of three doubles pairs and six singles players in its next four matches before Saturday’s 4-3 win against Cincinnati (7-4, 1-1 The American) at Legacy Tennis Center in East Falls.
At least two of the Owls’ eight players have missed one match or more with the flu. It recently spread to coach Steve Mauro, who missed Thursday morning’s practice at Legacy Tennis Center.
This flu season has sent more people to the hospital than any year in nearly a decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“With the flu, we’re such a small team, so I guess when one person gets infected, it affects everyone else,” assistant coach Frederika Girsang said. “It is just an unfortunate situation with this season.”
The injuries and illnesses are tests to which the team is still trying to adapt. They come during a stretch of four straight American Athletic Conference matches, the last of which will be on Saturday.
Temple’s win against Cincinnati snapped a four-match losing streak. Senior Yana Khon’s victory in the final singles flight clinched the Owls’ victory.
Temple will close the four-match conference stretch against UConn and Tulane on Friday and Saturday in Storrs, Connecticut.
ASSISTANT COACH, WOMEN’S TENNIS
“I feel like it has impacted us a lot,” senior Monet Stuckey-Willis said of the injuries and illnesses. “The rest of the team has had to carry more weight, and on top of that, we only had four players at once. If we lost one match, then it was kind of over for us as far as winning against the school.”
Senior Alina Abdurakhimova and sophomore Cecilia Castelli missed Temple’s match against Penn State on Jan. 28 with flu-like symptoms. Additionally, freshman Oyku Boz and senior Rimpledeep Kaur were sidelined because of injuries, limiting Temple to two doubles pairs and four singles players.
Neither Boz nor Kaur have played this spring. Boz should return to play in early March, and Kaur should take the court by mid-March, according to a team release from Feb. 12.
Abdurakhimova also missed the following match against Princeton University on Feb. 1 because she was still suffering from the flu. Castelli returned to the court to give Temple a fifth singles player in its 6-0 loss.
After the Owls played Princeton, they traveled to face George Washington University. The losing trend continued with several players still sidelined with injuries. The team did not play again for two weeks, but it still only had six players in a 4-0 loss on Feb. 17 to East Carolina (6-3, 1-0 The American).
Temple’s players and coaches are not shying away from the challenge of playing with limited personnel. Girsang had to step into a larger role herself when Mauro got sick.
“As a coach, you would want to have healthy players to be able to compete, especially in this conference,” Girsang said. “We have a very tough conference. So our goal right now is to get everybody healthy.”
Girsang said the team is taking a next-man-up approach to the situation. She added that the coaching staff can’t control when everyone comes back, but the team is just making sure everyone gets rest so players can come back as soon as possible. Thirteen matches remain before the conference tournament, which begins on April 18 in Dallas.
During practice matches, the coaches try to mix different players up so that they are comfortable playing with whomever necessary and are able to compete at different positions.
“I feel like we can still be really good,” Stuckey-Willis said. “Everyone has a high level of talent. Everyone just needs to work hard at practice because that’s the first place to start. Then we can transfer that to our matches.”