Temple will play postseason volleyball for the first time since 2002, and senior outside hitter Izzy Rapacz used two words — “excited” and “happy” — to describe her feelings about the news.
The Owls (19-9, 15-5 American Athletic Conference) finished second in The American’s regular-season standings to earn an automatic berth in the 32-team field in the Women’s National Invitational Volleyball Championship. Temple faces Campbell University (20-11, 10-6 Big South Conference) on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. at West Virginia University.
For senior middle blocker Janine Simmons, qualifying for a postseason tournament has fulfilled her preseason goal of making a lasting impact at Temple.
“It means a lot to us not only to be playing postseason, but to do it as seniors and knowing that we’re leaving the program better than we found it,” Simmons said. “We’re preparing to roll with the punches and not know what to expect.”
The NIVC had been inactive since 1995 before an announcement to revive the tournament for this season came at the American Volleyball Coaches Association Convention in December 2016. The postseason tournament originally debuted in 1989 in a 20-team format. This year’s version of the competition is a single-elimination tournament.
Temple didn’t earn a bid to the NCAA tournament this season, and The American’s lone representative in the 64-team field is Wichita State (28-3, 20-0 The American), which earned an automatic bid by placing first in the regular season.
Tuesday’s match against Campbell will be a homecoming for coach Bakeer Ganesharatnam. He was an assistant coach at West Virginia from 2006-10 prior to his tenure at Temple.
If Temple wins, it would face the winner between West Virginia (18-12, 6-10 Big 12 Conference) and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (27-8, 11-0 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) on Wednesday night. Ganesharatnam could potentially coach against his former school.
“I’m very excited to go back to Morgantown, [West Virginia], but at the same time, even though I’m going to see a lot of friends, we’re there to compete for some wins,” Ganesharatnam said.
The Owls are heading into the NIVC having won five of their past six matches.
Temple won in five sets against Connecticut on Nov. 24 to close the regular season. Later that day, Southern Methodist lost to Tulsa. Southern Methodist and Temple finished with the same conference record, but Temple won the head-to-head tiebreaker by sweeping the Mustangs during the regular season.
“It really felt good to solidify the automatic bid,” Ganesharatnam said. “I thought the conference this year was competitive, so finishing second and getting that automatic bid was absolutely a great feeling.”
Southern Methodist and Central Florida are the two other teams from The American that earned bids to the NIVC. Central Florida was the only team Temple lost to in its final six games.
The Owls’ last postseason appearance, the 2002 NCAA tournament, ended with Ganesharatnam’s predecessor, Bob Bertucci, taking the Owls to the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history.
Ganesharatnam and some of Temple’s players have said they want a conference tournament for The American. Ganesharatnam said it would help more teams have a chance to play in the NCAA tournament.
“The NCAA is full of surprises,” Rapacz said. “Anyone can beat anyone, and I think a conference tournament would definitely show that better than just playing the same team twice in the season.”
Nevertheless, the Owls are optimistic about their spot in the NIVC and feel like they are one of the better teams in the tournament, Simmons said.
Rapacz and Simmons said they are just happy Friday’s match against UConn wasn’t the last time they would play volleyball in a Temple uniform.
“Coach always stresses that it’s been 15 years since Temple volleyball has made any postseason play,” Rapacz said. “So we’re going to treat it seriously…but I’m just happy that I get another game with my girls.”