This weekend at Tudor Fieldhouse, the Rice University volleyball team’s regular season came to an end with two losses against conference opponents. On Thursday, the Owls (21-9, C-USA 11-5) fell short 2-3 against Marshall University (16-15, C-USA 10-6). On Saturday’s senior night, the Owls suffered a 0-3 sweep at the hands of the University of Texas, San Antonio (19-8, C-USA 15-1).
In Thursday’s loss against Marshall, right side hitter Chelsea Harris led the Owls offensively. Despite her career-high 21 kills, Marshall managed to pull off the upset behind the performance of their defensive specialist, Allie Kellerman, who recorded 25 digs.
Head Coach Genny Volpe said she blames defensive play and mental errors for the team’s struggle against Marshall.
“I think against Marshall we were pretty hesitant and tight,” Volpe said. “I was not happy with our pursuit of balls on defense and Marshall capitalized on some of our errors. Even with all of that we battled to five sets and just couldn’t make the plays that mattered at critical times.”
On Saturday’s senior night, the Owls faced a rematch against conference-leading UTSA. The seniors could not secure a final home win to end their careers at Rice. Although the Owls kept it competitive in all three sets, they could never manage to maintain their leads, falling 25-19, 25-21, 25-22. UTSA took advantage of Rice’s mistakes for a sweep that earned them the first seed in the conference tournament.
Volpe said offensive struggles and inconsistency were the key reason for Saturday’s loss.
“Against UTSA, we played much better defense and pursued balls with authority,” Volpe said. “Our offense is usually very sharp and it was a little bit sketchy. Chelsey Harris and Jillian Humphrey were pretty consistent, but we win matches convincingly when all of our hitters are contributing.”
Saturday’s home game included a pre-game ceremony to honor the senior class consisting of Daniela Arenas, Lizzy Bache and Jillian Humphrey, in their final home game as Owls.
Volpe said she has nothing but praise for all the members of the senior class for their leadership and ability.
“The senior class as a whole has been amazing,” Volpe said. “All three seniors have provided us with different strengths and a sincere desire to win. Hands down, this class is just so full of talent and desire. They have definitely set the standards high for the future seniors on this team.”
Humphrey will end her career at Rice as one of the top players in recent history. Humphrey, a middle blocker, will go into the Rice record books ranking in the top five in Rice history in block assists (407), total blocks (499), solo blocks (92) and hitting percentage (.295).
Volpe said Humphrey is a central part of the team’s games and their opponent’s defensive strategy.
“Jillian, from day one, has proven that she is one of the most physical players in the conference and is at the top of her game right now,” Volpe said. “ She can dominate a match and our opponents have to gameplan around her.”
Bache, also a middle blocker, will end her Rice career with 180 blocks and 646 digs in her four years on the team.
Volpe said Bache’s resilience in overcoming injury has her ready to make an impact in postseason play.
“[Bache] is the most versatile player we have had in years,” Volpe said. “Unfortunately, she suffered a pretty severe injury this season, and before that, she was leading the conference in hitting percentage. But she is also another extremely team-oriented player and has bounced back from her injury and is ready to go for the conference tournament in any capacity that we need her.”
Daniela Arenas’s four-year tenure at Rice will place her among the top defensive specialists in the team’s history. Her 1,708 career digs as well as her 3.79 digs per set rank second in Rice history.
According to Volpe, Arenas’ enthusiasm and leadership, in addition to her notable defensive play, have been a great contribution to the team.
“Daniela has a spirit about her that is unlike any other,” Volpe said. “She too is having the best year statistically, but not only that, she is the ultimate team player and wants nothing but the best for the team. She has been a solid leader.”
The Owls will now head to Hattiesburg, Mississippi to participate in the Conference USA tournament as the fourth seed. The tournament winner will earn an automatic berth in the NCAA Championship Tournament. The Owls will face a rematch with Marshall, the fifth seed, in the first round of the tournament. The game will be held at Southern Mississippi University’s Reed Green Coliseum on Friday, Nov. 21 at 2 p.m.
Volpe said she has high expectations for the team in the tournament as they look to rebound from their only back-to-back losses during the regular season.
“At this point in the season, we need a strong focus on competing and fighting for points,” Volpe said. “There is no doubt in my mind that this team has something special and is probably the most talented team we have ever had at Rice. When we have that killer instinct, nobody can stop us.”