Rice women's volleyball started conference play last weekend with a win and a loss. On Friday, the team lost 3-0 to Middle Tennessee State University, but the Owls came back hard from the loss to defeat East Carolina University 3-0 on Sunday. Despite Friday's loss, junior defense specialist Daniela Arenas had a milestone game, recording her 1,000th career dig in the game against Middle Tennessee.
This weekend, the team travels to Oklahoma in order to play the University of Tulsa on Friday. On Sunday, the Owls travel to Hattiesburg, Miss. to face the University of Southern Mississippi.
After the victory this past Sunday, Head Coach Genny Volpe said the team has made progress but can do better in the future.
"We've definitely improved," Volpe said. "We could still make our consistency better."
Junior middle blocker Jillian Humphrey in particular had a solid game against ECU, leading the team with 15 kills. Humphrey said despite the loss to Middle Tennessee, the team is very happy with the win over East Carolina.
"We obviously feel like we're the best in the world right now," Humphrey said.
Rice still has some steep competition to face, and the Owls are aware of the areas in which they can improve. Humphrey said the team plans to work hard this week in practice. She said the players will work on defense and will practice receiving hard-hit balls in order to improve their play.
"We have a lot of things to work on," Humphrey said. "[Last weekend], our defense was great, but we can always improve there and in our serving and receiving. They were giving us a lot of off-speed balls, and we were handling those well. I think in practice this week, we're going to work on the quicker-tempo, harder-hit balls coming at us."
Tulsa will present a challenge for the Owls. Tulsa's women's volleyball team has an overall record of 11-4. Last year, the Golden Hurricane won Conference USA and made it to the NCAA tournament.
Humphrey said that in recent years, Tulsa has always beaten Rice. She said the Owls need to overcome self-doubt and need to believe they have the ability to triumph over Tulsa.
"We've gone against [Tulsa] in the past and come up short each time," Humphrey said. "So I think we need to work on getting over the thing in the back of our heads saying 'You haven't won this yet.' "
Humphrey said the team will have to work hard in order to gain the confidence and skills necessary to beat Tulsa. Humphrey also said Tulsa's strength is in its hard-hitters. Hence, she said it is crucial that Rice work on defending against high-velocity balls.
"We're just going to have to work really hard," Humphrey said. "They have a lot of hard-hitters, and we're going to have to pick up our defense for them."
Overall, Volpe said the team is going to need to have productive practices this week. She said the exhilaration from the recent win will make the team even more eager to practice hard.
"We're excited to get back in the gym," Volpe said.