The Rice University volleyball team (20-6, 10-2 C-USA) earned two victories in Florida this weekend against conference opponents Florida International University (6-20, 3-10 C-USA) and Florida Atlantic University (17-9, 8-5 C-USA).
The first victory came on a Friday matchup in Miami, Florida against FIU. The Owls faced an FIU team riding a seven-game losing streak. The Owls broke a 16-16 tie in the first set and a 22-22 tie in the second to narrowly pull away with the first two sets, 25-18 and 25-22. Despite FIU taking the third set and avoiding the sweep, the Owls prevailed in a 3-1 victory and, with the win, clinched a spot in the Conference USA tournament.
On Sunday, the team traveled north to Boca Raton, Florida to take on the FAU Owls. With consistent and balanced play on offense and a defense that held FAU to a .200 hitting percentage, the Rice Owls completed their 13th 3-0 sweep of the season. The win also secured their place among the top Rice volleyball teams in recent history by becoming the 13th team to reach 20 wins in a season.
Head Coach Genny Volpe said she was pleased with the resilience the team showed after a relatively poor start against FIU. Volpe also said she was happy with the way they overcame the difficult start to beat FIU on Friday and then defeated a tougher team in FAU on Sunday.
“We started out a little bit rocky at Florida International but managed to pull out a win with pretty average play,” Volpe said. “Against Florida Atlantic, we knew we had to step up our game because they are a stronger team and we did.”
Right side hitter Chelsey Harris recorded double-digit kills in both games with 16 against FIU and a team-high 13 against FAU. Volpe said Harris played a valuable role in the perfect weekend
“Chelsey Harris did an awesome job for us over the weekend,” Volpe said. “She was extremely dependable checking for us on the right side.”
In addition to Harris, Volpe said she was impressed with the job freshman Katie Steel has done as setter, stepping in for injured sophomore Sara Blasier.
“Katie has really come through being put in a very important position quarterbacking the team while Sara has been out with injury,” Volpe said. “I have been so impressed with her ability to focus and work through some tough match situations. Katie’s assist numbers have been stellar, and I think the team and she deserve a lot of credit for pulling together and gelling like they have these last two weeks.”
The Owls now sit at third place in the Conference USA standings with a 10-2 conference record with the two losses coming from the current leaders in the conference — the University of Texas, San Antonio and Western Kentucky University. With four matches left in the season, the Owls are trying to climb in the Conference USA standings as they prepare for the conference tournament on Nov. 21. Volpe said the team is looking to finish the season strong and carry the winning streak into the C-USA tournament in order to receive a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
“We want to obviously [win] out the rest of our matches in conference play and then continue that momentum into winning the conference tournament,” Volpe said. “We have that ability and we know what we need to do. The team is committed. We honestly have the best offense in the league and need to capitalize on that to keep winning out.”
The Owls now have four conference home games in the next two weeks. This weekend features a 6 p.m. Friday matchup against the University of North Texas, followed by a 1 p.m. Sunday game against Louisiana Tech University.
Volpe said the importance of these final regular-season home games are critical for the team’s confidence and momentum going into postseason play.
“We need the support of the Owl fans,” Volpe said. “We would absolutely love to see the members of the Rice community come out and support this awesome team. We hope that the student body comes out in full force and gives us the home-court advantage. We have been on the road a lot this season, and so I know the team is looking forward to playing in front of their fans.”