Just when it seemed like its winning streak was over, Rice’s volleyball team fought back for the ultimate comeback victory. Sunday’s five-set thriller against the University of Alabama at Birmingham saw Rice respond to an 0-2 deficit by reeling off three straight set victories to secure a 3-2 win, making it six consecutive wins for the Owls. Their last loss was almost a month ago.
Since then, the team has seen nothing but success. After notching three home wins in a row against conference opponents, their road trip this weekend included victories over Marshall University as well as UAB, pushing their overall record to 16-5 (including 6-1 in Conference USA). Rice is currently tied for second in the conference, trailing only the three-time defending conference champion Western Kentucky University.
Sophomore Grace Morgan and freshman Nicole Lennon starred in Friday’s win over Marshall by notching 18 kills each, and senior Madison McDaniel added 44 assists. The Owls led the match 2-0 before Marshall battled back to even the score at two sets apiece, but Rice nixed the comeback with a match-clinching victory in the final set.
Sunday’s comeback win over UAB saw four Owls hit double-digits in kills, led by 17 from senior Portia Okafor; her nine blocks also paced the team. McDaniel added her sixth double-double of the season – 53 assists and 20 digs – and Lennon notched her 11th, with 17 digs and 17 kills.
When asked to explain the team’s success, Morgan said its close-knit nature is a focal point.
“Our team is really close: We’re all really good friends,” Morgan said. “We all trust each other, which really helps on the court.”
Head coach Genny Volpe said that one of the team’s key strengths this season has been its depth.
“One thing that has impressed me is that for most of the season we have not been 100 percent healthy,” Volpe said. “Different people are stepping up each match and helping the team find a way to succeed in some very tough situations.”
According to Morgan, though, the team isn’t resting on its laurels despite its recent hot streak.
“We can always get better: There’s always improvements that can be made,” Morgan said. “We’re definitely working on being more consistent with our play.”
Due to the team’s recent success, Rice’s players have been honored with conference-wide awards in the past few weeks. McDaniel was selected as the C-USA Setter of the Week set — her seventh career Setter of the Week honor – for the week of Oct. 2, on the strength of her two double-doubles and nearly 11 assists per set.
Morgan also earned an award for the same week, earning the C-USA Defensive Player of the Week as she piled up 13 blocks over eight sets. This is her second award of the season — she was named the C-USA Offensive Player of the Week just two weeks prior.
She said she attributes much of her success this year to her teammates.
“I have an awesome setter [McDaniel] who’s been really giving me [opportunities],” Morgan said. “My teammates support me, and I couldn’t do it without them.”
Up next, Rice will host two conference rivals at Tudor Fieldhouse this weekend. They play the University of Texas at San Antonio on Friday at 6 p.m. before facing off against the University of Texas at El Paso on Sunday at 1 p.m.