When the volleyball team left for its season opener in Dallas, the plan was to be gone for a weekend. Then, the hurricane struck. The Owls finally returned on Sunday after traveling through three cities, playing seven matches and winning four times.

Head coach Genny Volpe said being away from home throughout the storm has been difficult.

“It’s been humbling for all of us,” Volpe said. “We have been so saddened to hear about all of the loss of lives and property damage.”

Rice began its season with a trip to Dallas beginning on Aug. 25 for the Southern Methodist University Doubletree Invitational and claimed the tournament crown by winning two out of its three matches.

That weekend, however, Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. Amid the devastation in the city, Rice had to change course. The team could not return home. Following a loss to Texas Christian University on Aug. 27, Rice headed to Waco. There, the team dined with Baylor University President Linda Livingstone, the mother of Rice junior hitter Shelby Livingstone, and moved into a local hotel. According to Volpe, the team was lucky to have a place to stay in Waco.

“[Linda Livingstone] really hooked us up with everything from meals on campus to the hotel we stayed in,” Volpe said. “The Baylor volleyball coaches allowed us to use their facilities to train so we were very grateful for that as well.”

The team continued to practice in preparation for its next three matches in Boulder, Colorado. While in Waco, players ate in Baylor dining halls, attended events on campus and visited local attractions such as the Magnolia Market in their spare time. Senior setter Madison McDaniel told KXXV-TV in Waco she felt welcomed by Baylor.

“We’ve felt [at] home here,” McDaniel said. “It’s been great that they’ve taken us in and let us use their facilities. It’s been super nice.”

Back to the court

After the four-day stay in Waco, the Owls traveled to Boulder for the Omni Invitational. Their second weekend of play began with a sweep against Wake Forest University. The Owls controlled the match defensively, holding the Demon Deacons to a hitting percentage of just .031. Freshman Nicole Lennon led the Owls with 11 kills and McDaniel added 28 assists to help hand Wake Forest its first loss of the season.

Rice was back in action the next morning against Abilene Christian University. The Owls’ defense again held its opponent to a low hitting percentage, this time just .065, to lead Rice to a 3-1 victory. After splitting the first two sets, Rice pulled away with an 8-1 run in the third to win 25-18 and won the final four points of the fourth set to clinch a 25-21 win. Junior McKay Kyle and freshman Seyvion Waggoner paced the offense with 14 and 13 kills, respectively. Volpe said Kyle’s performance has been particularly impressive.

“McKay Kyle really has been extremely consistent over the past couple of weeks and has been a huge spark for us,” Volpe said.

Rice finally concluded its road trip Saturday night against the University of Colorado Boulder. The undefeated Buffaloes swept the Owls 25-15, 25-20 and 25-20. Colorado outhit Rice .318 to .208, though Rice freshman Nicole Lennon led all players with 15 kills. Although the trip ended on a sour note, Volpe said she is proud of how the team handled the inconvenience of being away for so long.

“They are a very committed group of young women,” Volpe said. “We didn’t always play well, but we found a way to pull together and do the job on several occasions. I am impressed with their ability to focus.”

Rice is now 4-3 on the season and will open its home slate this weekend in the first of two Rice Adidas Invitationals. The Owls will play the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, the University of California, Berkeley and the University of the Incarnate Word this Friday to Saturday. According to Volpe, the team is thrilled to finally get a chance to play in its own gym.

“You have no idea how excited we are to be home,” Volpe said. “We hope we have a huge crowd of student support. We are really looking forward to being in Tudor Fieldhouse.”