Temple was one point away from winning the first set when Averi Salvador stepped behind the baseline to serve. With the Owls up six points on South Florida, Salvador sent a serve that dropped between the front and back rows.
South Florida junior defensive specialist Maria McLamb dove to receive the floating serve and her teammates were forced to attack the right side after the serve wasn’t received cleanly. Junior middle blocker Carla Guennewig and freshman outside hitter Katerina Papazoglou read the play and rose above the net for a set-winning double-block on an attack from Bulls senior outside hitter Priscilla Ehieze.
The Owls (17-9, 13-5 American Athletic Conference) beat the Bulls in four sets Sunday afternoon at McGonigle Hall. The win brings Temple within one game of Southern Methodist in the conference standings. The Mustangs are in second place with two matches left on the schedule.
Wichita State (26-3, 18-0 The American) has clinched the regular-season conference title and a berth in the NCAA tournament. The other teams in The American have to hope for at-large selection.
Coach Bakeer Ganesharatnam said Temple’s execution was much better against South Florida than it was in its loss to Central Florida on Friday.
“I thought we did a very good job serving aggressively,” Ganesharatnam said. “It really allowed us to take South Florida out of system. We played very well in the first two sets. In the third set, we didn’t do a good job serving aggressively and on top of that, we accumulated a lot of unforced errors.”
Senior outside hitter Izzy Rapacz led all scorers with two aces and 16 kills. She also had three blocks.
Two of the five service errors the Owls made came in the third set. Temple lost that set, 25-22.
The serving mistakes by the Owls allowed the Bulls to settle into their offense in the third set. The Bulls hit 25.6 percent and scored 17 kills in the third set. The Owls only had 13 kills and hit 23.7 percent in that set.
South Florida scored several points on tips in the third set because Temple’s movement and communication were poor, Ganesharatnam said.
Redshirt-freshman outside hitter Dana Westfield, who tallied 15 kills and had just one attack error, said picking up tips has something the team has been working on all season.
“We did have a little bit of trouble with it,” Westfield said. “I think we got comfortable and weren’t exactly aware of where we all were. We weren’t really talking about it, but in the fourth set we figured out that we had to go out of our way to talk.”
A lack of communication was one of the reasons the Owls lost to Central Florida on Friday, Ganesharatnam said. He added that the team did a good job of fixing its errors on Sunday, especially in the fourth set.
Junior setter Hannah Vandegrift tied her career-high with 39 assists and matched a season-high with two kills. She also hit 66.7 percent and contributed four digs.
Ganesharatnam said Vandegrift didn’t even know she would start in place of senior setter Kyra Coundourides until about 30 minutes before the match. Working hard during practices in the past week earned Vandergrift the starting spot on Sunday, Ganesharatnam said.
Temple has two more games left on its schedule. The Owls will have their Senior Day on Wednesday against UConn at McGonigle Hall. Then they will travel to Storrs, Connecticut, to take on the Huskies on Friday to close out the regular season.