Last weekend, Rice women's volleyball won one match and lost two at the second Rice Invitational of the season. The team got off to a fast start on Friday afternoon with a 3-1 victory over Houston Baptist University. In the Friday nightcap, the Owls fell to the University of Missouri, 3-0. Rice missed its chance to leave the weekend with more wins than losses, dropping its match against the North Carolina State University Wolfpack 3-1.
Junior middle blocker Jillian Humphrey was one of the Owls' standout players, recording 39 kills and 11 blocks over the weekend. Humphrey was named to the All-Rice Invitational Team.
Rice, with a current record of 3-7, has struggled to gain momentum this season.
Head Coach Genny Volpe said the team's struggles have mostly come from the elite talent of its opponents. Volpe said both NC State, with a current record of 8-1, and Missouri, which is undefeated, were formidable opponents.
"Have no doubt - [NC State is] an NCAA tournament team," Volpe said. "They were last year. They will be again. And Missouri is probably going to be in the top 15 in the nation soon."
Volpe said the team has suffered a few injuries, such as freshman outside hitter Stephanie Mendivil's broken pinky. Volpe said the team has had to alter its lineup due to the injuries.
"Once we get a couple of healthy people back, that'll help," Volpe said.
Volpe said this volleyball team is younger than those she has had in the past. With five freshmen and three sophomores, half of the team consists of underclassmen. Volpe said having so many young players makes it difficult to face teams with more experience.
"I think our struggles happen because we've got some pretty young people out there who are really learning as they play," Volpe said. "They're definitely improving, but when you play a team with a ton of experience, then you don't really have the time to learn as you go. You just need to execute, and we're just a little inconsistent in that area."
The Owls will play Baylor University Wednesday night at 7 p.m. in the last game of their homestand. They will then travel to Louisville, Ky. to play Virginia Tech, the University of Louisville and Bowling Green State University.
Humphrey said the team plans to spend this week improving upon its general play. She said she hopes to improve her blocking in preparation for upcoming games.
"Personally, I'm going to focus a lot on my blocking," Humphrey said. "We played some hard-hitting teams, and I think that if I had gotten more touches on balls, then we could have been a little bit more successful."
Humphrey said she is anticipating the Baylor match, and she is determined to get in some quality practice time beforehand.
"I'm really excited for Baylor," Humphrey said. "We're going to have a good couple days of practice."
Volpe said she was happy about the timing of the Baylor match and that she has high hopes for the team to come back from its recent upsets and gain a victory against Baylor. She said Baylor, with an overall record of 4-7, is an even match for Rice.
"I'm glad that we're playing a midweek match because I think it's really important to get back on the court and play another match," Volpe said. "Baylor has its ups and downs. I think it's going to be a battle. For us to produce a win against them - that's exactly what we're looking to do."
Humphrey said the Owls' defense will be a crucial factor in the match. She said the team has the necessary skills but needs to work on getting balls off the floor and returning its opponents' serves.
"I think we just need to focus on defense in general," Humphrey said. "A lot of balls are falling to the floor. I mean, we're making great moves. We had a lot of digs this weekend. It's just a lot of those balls need to be up."
Humphrey said the team realizes it faces an uphill battle in Louisville this weekend, both in the high level of the competition and in the challenges of travelling to an unknown court. Humphrey said playing in a new gym is a potential problem the team will need to overcome.
"I think our biggest challenge is going to be just traveling again because we haven't traveled in a couple of weeks and we're going to be playing in a new gym," Humphrey said. "That hasn't been a problem for us in the past, but having been at home for the past two weeks, it could catch us by surprise."
Volpe agreed the weekend will be challenging. She said Virginia Tech, Bowling Green and especially Louisville are all quality teams.
"All three of them went to the NCAA tournament last year," Volpe said. "So they're good teams, and all of them are going to do really well in their conferences, with Louisville being the powerhouse."
Volpe said she faces this upcoming weekend with a plan. She said the team is going to quickly address its issues this week in hopes it can add to its win tally. Volpe said despite the team's sporadic results, not all is lost as long as the Owls can push themselves.
"I think it's important for us to really make some adjustments quickly in the next week in order for us to get out there and get some wins that we are really close to getting," Volpe said. "We just need to keep fighting."