Despite a Saturday setback, it was a mostly successful season-opening weekend at the Red Raider Classic for Rice’s volleyball team. The Owls took two out of three matches in their tournament slate, handily dispatching the University of North Dakota and Northwestern State University on Friday before dropping the final match to Texas Tech University on Saturday.
The Owls started their first match neck and neck with the North Dakota squad, finally breaking free on a 5-2 run to close the first set after a deadlock at 20 apiece. They then took two of the final three sets behind a standout performance from sophomore outside hitter Nicole Lennon, who finished the match with a team-high 21 kills. Head coach Genny Volpe said although the team’s concentration was key in the win, there was room for improvement.
“I would say something that [the team] did really well was they came out very focused, [with] lots of energy,” Volpe said. “But honestly, the first match was kind of ugly for both teams. It was more like we just fought through some of the ugly play — I think it was first match nerves; both teams [were] anxious and hadn’t seen each other play.”
The second match of the weekend saw the Owls put together a more cohesive performance against Northwestern State, sweeping the Lady Demons in three straight sets. Lennon again led the offensive attack with 13 kills, and junior middle blocker Grace Morgan tacked on 11 kills on just 18 attacks. Both freshman setter Carly Graham and junior setter Adria Martinez added on double-digit assist totals to lead the Owls to a quick victory. Volpe said she was particularly happy with the team’s offensive flow.
“I was really pleased with our serve-receive passing,” Volpe said. “It was on point, so we were able to run a balanced offense, [and] our passers did a solid job of getting the ball up to our setters. That was a very clean offensive match for us.”
Saturday’s match against Texas Tech began much the same way that the previous matchup had ended, as the Owls used a strong offensive attack to hand the Red Raiders a 2-0 set deficit. But this time, Rice was unable to hold the lead, dropping the final three sets of the match as the offense cratered. In two of the final three sets, the Owls were held to a hitting percentage of zero, meaning they tallied just as many errors as they did kills. According to Volpe, the breakdown stemmed from a lack of in-game corrections.
“We didn’t really counter [Texas Tech’s] adjustments,” Volpe said. “Our offense suffered a little bit; [Texas Tech] started blocking the ball well, and I think our hitters got frustrated with the fact that they were taking away [our] shots at the net, so we started making some errors. But up until the third set, our team was playing as well as I’ve seen them play.”
The Owls now look to this weekend’s Adidas Rice Invitational at Tudor Fieldhouse. They will play three matches during the tournament, beginning with Friday’s against the University of South Carolina at 6:30 p.m. This will be followed by two matches on Saturday, at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., against Liberty University and Houston Baptist University, respectively.
“I’m looking forward to winning all the games, and being able to crush some teams at home,” Morgan said. “Hopefully we have a good crowd to come watch.”