Rice women's volleyball ended its nonconference season with three losses last weekend at the Active Ankle Challenge tournament in Louisville, Ky. The Owls lost Friday to Virginia Tech 3-0 and lost 3-0 to the University of Louisville Saturday afternoon. The Owls managed to take one set Saturday night against Bowling Green State University but ultimately fell 3-1, concluding their nonconference schedule with an overall record of 3-11. Next weekend, Rice begins Conference USA play with a home game Friday night against Middle Tennessee State University. After that, the Owls will host East Carolina University on Sunday.Head Coach Genny Volpe said the team heads into conference play on an upward trajectory despite the multitude of preseason losses. "This weekend, we did lose, but there were a lot of bright spots," Volpe said. "The team is definitely in a better place mentally and getting tougher and stronger. So we're just going to keep building on that."Volpe said the team needs to polish up its fundamentals in order to continue to improve. She said she hope the wins will follow shortly thereafter."We're pretty athletic, and we do a lot of really good things, but sometimes our fundamentals can get away from us at key times," Volpe said. "So we're just going to focus a lot on our ball control and our serving and passing, and I think that that's going to keep us really composed and allow us to run the offense that we are capable of running."Senior outside hitter Tyler Jenkins said she believes the team is capable of running a better offense and recording better results. She said the Owls will focus on making fewer errors. "We're going to work on getting more consistent and just turning all of our hard work into results," Jenkins said. "[We're] all working really hard; we're just not getting the results that we want."According to Volpe, the team's morale is not deflated by its recent losses to talented teams. Rather, Volpe said the Owls are looking forward to conference play with excitement. "We're excited to get into conference," Volpe said. "It's been a rough preseason. We just played an extremely tough schedule. I do think in a lot of ways we are prepared for conference play because we've been definitely battle-tested. So I think that going into conference will bring some new energy."Jenkins said she was enthusiastic about building a better conference record. "We're really excited to get started because our record doesn't reflect how much we've learned and how much we've grown as a team, not only in skill, but [also] as a team unit," Jenkins said.Volpe said Middle Tennessee is a formidable first opponent, but she said it will be good for Rice to be challenged with steep competition. "We are starting off with Middle Tennessee, which is a very strong team," Volpe said. "That will be nice to play a team as strong as Middle Tennessee."Volpe said the Owls are ready to face their challenges and to gain more victories than they did in the nonconference part of the schedule. "We'll be tested right away," Volpe said. "We're definitely looking forward to starting conference and basically getting a fresh start."
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Last weekend, Rice women's volleyball won one match and lost two at the second Rice Invitational of the season. The team got off to a fast start on Friday afternoon with a 3-1 victory over Houston Baptist University. In the Friday nightcap, the Owls fell to the University of Missouri, 3-0. Rice missed its chance to leave the weekend with more wins than losses, dropping its match against the North Carolina State University Wolfpack 3-1.Junior middle blocker Jillian Humphrey was one of the Owls' standout players, recording 39 kills and 11 blocks over the weekend. Humphrey was named to the All-Rice Invitational Team.Rice, with a current record of 3-7, has struggled to gain momentum this season. Head Coach Genny Volpe said the team's struggles have mostly come from the elite talent of its opponents. Volpe said both NC State, with a current record of 8-1, and Missouri, which is undefeated, were formidable opponents."Have no doubt - [NC State is] an NCAA tournament team," Volpe said. "They were last year. They will be again. And Missouri is probably going to be in the top 15 in the nation soon."Volpe said the team has suffered a few injuries, such as freshman outside hitter Stephanie Mendivil's broken pinky. Volpe said the team has had to alter its lineup due to the injuries."Once we get a couple of healthy people back, that'll help," Volpe said.Volpe said this volleyball team is younger than those she has had in the past. With five freshmen and three sophomores, half of the team consists of underclassmen. Volpe said having so many young players makes it difficult to face teams with more experience. "I think our struggles happen because we've got some pretty young people out there who are really learning as they play," Volpe said. "They're definitely improving, but when you play a team with a ton of experience, then you don't really have the time to learn as you go. You just need to execute, and we're just a little inconsistent in that area."The Owls will play Baylor University Wednesday night at 7 p.m. in the last game of their homestand. They will then travel to Louisville, Ky. to play Virginia Tech, the University of Louisville and Bowling Green State University.Humphrey said the team plans to spend this week improving upon its general play. She said she hopes to improve her blocking in preparation for upcoming games."Personally, I'm going to focus a lot on my blocking," Humphrey said. "We played some hard-hitting teams, and I think that if I had gotten more touches on balls, then we could have been a little bit more successful."Humphrey said she is anticipating the Baylor match, and she is determined to get in some quality practice time beforehand."I'm really excited for Baylor," Humphrey said. "We're going to have a good couple days of practice."Volpe said she was happy about the timing of the Baylor match and that she has high hopes for the team to come back from its recent upsets and gain a victory against Baylor. She said Baylor, with an overall record of 4-7, is an even match for Rice."I'm glad that we're playing a midweek match because I think it's really important to get back on the court and play another match," Volpe said. "Baylor has its ups and downs. I think it's going to be a battle. For us to produce a win against them - that's exactly what we're looking to do."Humphrey said the Owls' defense will be a crucial factor in the match. She said the team has the necessary skills but needs to work on getting balls off the floor and returning its opponents' serves."I think we just need to focus on defense in general," Humphrey said. "A lot of balls are falling to the floor. I mean, we're making great moves. We had a lot of digs this weekend. It's just a lot of those balls need to be up."Humphrey said the team realizes it faces an uphill battle in Louisville this weekend, both in the high level of the competition and in the challenges of travelling to an unknown court. Humphrey said playing in a new gym is a potential problem the team will need to overcome."I think our biggest challenge is going to be just traveling again because we haven't traveled in a couple of weeks and we're going to be playing in a new gym," Humphrey said. "That hasn't been a problem for us in the past, but having been at home for the past two weeks, it could catch us by surprise."Volpe agreed the weekend will be challenging. She said Virginia Tech, Bowling Green and especially Louisville are all quality teams."All three of them went to the NCAA tournament last year," Volpe said. "So they're good teams, and all of them are going to do really well in their conferences, with Louisville being the powerhouse."Volpe said she faces this upcoming weekend with a plan. She said the team is going to quickly address its issues this week in hopes it can add to its win tally. Volpe said despite the team's sporadic results, not all is lost as long as the Owls can push themselves. "I think it's important for us to really make some adjustments quickly in the next week in order for us to get out there and get some wins that we are really close to getting," Volpe said. "We just need to keep fighting."
The Rice Owls volleyball team opened up its home schedule with its first invitational of the season by securing its first win, followed by two close losses. On Friday night, Rice University swept Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi 3-0. The following afternoon, the Owls fell 3-2 to the University of Arkansas, Little Rock and lost 3-1 to Louisiana State University in the nightcap.Rice took the first set against LSU 28-26 to grab a 1-0 set lead, but LSU answered by taking the next three. At various points throughout those sets, Rice was in the lead but was unable to claim the set. The Owls fought and clawed in the fourth and final set, but the Tigers triumphed 31-29.Senior Mariah Riddlesprigger contributed 16 kills in the LSU game, and junior Lizzy Bache was named to the All-Rice Invitational Team.Head Coach Genny Volpe said serving was the major issue this weekend and that the team would need to work on it at practice."Our serving was erratic at times," Volpe said. "In key situations, we would miss our serve or give them a really easy ball. We broke down too many times, and they really took advantage of that." Riddlesprigger said the team needs to avoid letting nerves get the best of it at the end of close matches, a problem she said the Owls have been struggling with in their first two weeks of play."We haven't been able to close very many games," Riddlesprigger said.This weekend, Rice will host its second invitational, at which it will face Houston Baptist University, the University of Missouri and North Carolina State University.Volpe said the Owls need to break out of their current slump before the conference season begins."The competition won't get any easier," Volpe said. Houston Baptist has an overall record of 4-3, and both Missouri and North Carolina State are thus far undefeated, but Riddlesprigger said she remains confident."We have the ability to play with the best," Riddlesprigger said.Volpe said the team has special faith in its younger members, such as freshman hitter Stephanie Mendivil and freshman setter Chelsey Harris."Knowing we have such youth on the team is really inspiring," Volpe said.Riddlesprigger said the team may need to tend to some issues but that she is anticipating improvement as the season goes on. She said the team's middle blockers are its key players."They're our go-to [players]," Riddlesprigger said. "We have a really fast offense."Volpe said she believes wins will come once the team can match its impressive offense with a more stalwart defense."We can beat these teams, but it's going to take some focus and practice and execution of the little things," Volpe said. "The thing about this team is that it's never going to give up."