After coming off its second American Athletic Conference victory of the season, the East Carolina volleyball team will look to continue its strong play against conference opponents this weekend. The Pirates (10-6, 2-2 AAC) have road matchups against Temple University on Friday and the University of Connecticut on Sunday.
The volleyball team is coming off a big win against AAC opponent Tulsa on Sunday. It snapped a 16-game losing streak to the Golden Hurricane with a four-set match victory. The other conference victory for ECU this season was earned in a big AAC road matchup on Sept. 24 against the University of South Florida, also in four sets.
In each of these wins, ECU was considered the “underdog”, as preseason AAC rankings had the Pirates sitting at 11th in the conference, while USF ranked sixth and Tulsa ranked ninth.
Just like Tulsa and and UCF, both Temple and UConn received a higher ranking in the preseason polls. Preseason rankings do not mean much according to senior middle hitter Natalie Montini, but she has been proud of how her team has fought thus far in conference play.
“We want to win,” Montini said. “There’s five seniors, and we’ve just waited all these years to be able to play these teams and just have fun with it. I think we are just having fun this year with each other, and really playing together, so that’s exciting.”
Temple was ranked third in the AAC preseason rankings and stands at 7-5 thus far this season, including a 3-1 record in conference play. It’s three conference wins come against Memphis, Tulane and Houston, with its lone loss coming against the No. 1 team in the conference, the No. 23 nationally ranked team in the nation: Wichita State, who is a new addition to the AAC this season.
The Owls will likely be one of the toughest teams ECU faces this season, as they currently have the second highest conference hitting percentage at .241, just behind Wichita State who has an impressive .267 hitting percentage. To compare, the average hitting percentage in the AAC is .206. Temple is led offensively by senior outside hitters Irem Acsi and Izzy Rapacz, who are ranked 10th and 11th in the AAC in kills per set at 3.00 and 2.98 respectively. Although each player is ranked very highly in that category, Rapacz is the only player on the Temple roster with more than 100 kills this season, standing at 122. Temple does a good job of distributing its attack between many different players, with six players on its roster with at least 70 kills on the season.
ECU has a few players of its own that have made their mark offensively, as senior outside hitter Lael Ceriani ranks seventh in both kills and kills per set, with 199 kills on the year at a rate of 3.32 kills per set. The Pirates have four players that have over 100 kills this season, with freshman right side Bri Wood with 156 kills, senior middle hitter Natalie Montini with 146 kills and senior outside hitter Ashton Mares with 112 kills joining Ceriani on that list.
In the Pirates’ second game of the weekend, they will face a UConn team that was ranked seventh in the AAC preseason poll. They stand at 9-7 on the season, including 2-2 in the AAC. ECU will need to watch for redshirt sophomore outside hitter Kayla Williams, who is ranked fifth in the AAC in kills per set at 3.66.
After a big conference win against a Tulsa team, whom the Pirates hadn’t beaten in their last 16 tries, head coach Julie Torbett has the utmost confidence in her program heading into their two conference opponents this weekend.
“Well I always believe in them,” Torbett said. “I know if we execute the gameplan, that we are going to be successful...I’m very excited and very proud of this team.”