The Rice University volleyball team's season came to an abrupt end when it lost to seventh-seeded University of Alabama, Birmingham in the first round of the Conference USA tournament Nov. 21. The Blazers swept Rice 3-0. With the loss, the Owls finished the year at 11-19 overall and 7-8 in conference play.
Head Coach Genny Volpe said UAB played a strong and confident game and that, while the Owls were in good form, they could not quite keep up with their opponent.
"UAB came out at the conference tournament with a really strong presence and executed their middle attack really well, which I think rattled our team," Volpe said. "They had a more confident air about them, which was a bit surprising since we had won five out of the last six matches. I felt like we were in a good place and confident, but UAB dominated that match from the start. They played great and fearless volleyball. We didn't respond until the third set, and by that time, it was a little too late."
Volpe said the team was disappointed with the results of this season. She said Rice had ambitious goals, and it was frustrating when these goals were not met. Volpe said Rice's struggles were due to unfortunate injuries and a difficult schedule.
"Obviously, we are disappointed in how the season went for us, as we had high goals that were not reached," Volpe said. "I do think we played a very tough schedule, and when you are missing some key players due to sickness and injury, that will not end well. When the results weren't there, it affected our confidence."
Volpe said the team is trying not to concentrate on failures of the past and is instead looking forward to next season.
"We learned and grew as a team as time went on, and we will carry those [lessons] into the spring and next season," Volpe said.
Volpe said the Owls have youth on their side, and the players who are set to return next fall will be working hard throughout the spring.
"I think in general some of the high points of the season were the performances of our youth," Volpe said. "Sara Blasier and Chelsey Harris [played major roles as] freshmen. They played key roles this year and led our team in many matches. Our future is bright, as we return several starters from this past season, and I can guarantee they will remember this season and be motivated this spring to improve."
Senior outside hitter Mariah Riddlesprigger said she wished for more wins her final season but sees the good that came from this team. She said the team was a close-knit group of people, and she enjoyed the season despite its disappointments.
"My senior season was filled with so many ups and downs," Riddlesprigger said. "This team faced so much adversity from beginning to end, but I couldn't have asked for a better season. This group of girls was such an amazing group, and they made this season [one] I will never forget."
Riddlesprigger said she has complete faith in the team's ability to have a successful future.
"We are all excited about the future," Riddlesprigger said. "Even though I am done, I know these girls are going to bounce back and do amazing things next year. Everybody [had] better watch out because they are on a mission."
Volpe said the team will miss Riddlesprigger and her three fellow seniors - setter Megan Murphy, outside hitter Tyler Jenkins and right side hitter Lindsay Daniel - that will graduate this year.
"I do want to thank our four seniors for all of their dedication over the years," Volpe said. "They are wonderful young women and have influenced our program in so many ways."