Owls' streak stopped at six with Tulane loss
Riding a six-game winning streak, the volleyball team faced Tulane University, their stiffest opponent of the season, on Friday. The Green Wave broke the Owls' streak in a hard-fought, five-set match. However, Rice was able to bounce back on Sunday, taking out the University of Texas- El Paso in three sets to cap off a split weekend, their first since the beginning of October. Rice plays a pair of Conference USA road matches this weekend, beginning Friday night at 7 p.m. against the University of Tulsa in Tulsa, Okla. Tulsa sits in fourth place in the conference, right behind Rice, and a Golden Hurricane victory would create a tie for third place. The match will also be a chance for the Owls to exact revenge for a five-set loss to Tulsa on Oct. 5. Senior outside hitter Jessica Holderness said she expects a competitive match.
"We know that Tulsa will come out and give us a good game," Holderness said. "We've been working on the areas of the game that hurt us in our first match [against Tulsa], and we expect to win this one."
Rice will finish up the weekend on Sunday at 1 p.m. in Dallas, Texas, against Southern Methodist University. The Owls already beat the Mustangs once this season in a three-set sweep on Oct. 3.
The team went into Friday night's conference match against Tulane flying high. However, C-USA's second-place team brought the Owls back to earth, defeating Rice in a winner-take-all fifth set.
The match began competitively enough, with Rice taking a 7-6 lead on a block by junior middle blocker Natalie Bogan. However, the Green Wave responded with a 13-3 run that placed them firmly in control of the first set, which they won handily.
Rice and Tulane went back-and-forth for the entire second set, with neither team leading by more than four points at any point. A kill by Holderness gave the Owls a 25-22 win and evened the match at one set apiece. Sophomore setter Meredith Schamun's 16 assists and Bogan's six kills were instrumental in the Owls' taking the second set.
Rice and Tulane continued the back and forth play in the third set. After a quick 4-0 run by Tulane gave the Green Wave a 15-12 lead, Rice pulled within one point to 16-15. Tulane then went on a 9-3 run punctuated by a kill that gave them a 25-18 lead and a 2-1 set advantage.
The fourth set consisted of more of the same close play between the Owls and Tulane. Holderness secured the set for Rice on a kill, her fifth of the set. Schamun also played a key role in the fourth set, notching nine assists and two kills for the Owls.
The match came down to the critical fifth set. Tulane opened up a 4-0 advantage, but the Owls battled back to take an 8-6 lead on a kill by Bogan. However, Tulane would go on another 4-0 run to take a 10-8 lead over the Owls. Three consecutive points by the Green Wave, culminated by a service ace, gave Tulane a 15-11 victory in the fifth set- their fourth victory over Rice in two seasons. The final point of the match was indicative of the service game advantage Tulane held over the Owls throughout the match, according to head coach Genny Volpe.
"The team that serves aggressively has the advantage in volleyball," Volpe said. "They attacked with the serve, and we didn't. That was the difference."
The Owls looked to rally against UTEP on Sunday afternoon and succeeded, defeating the Miners in three sets (25-20, 25-22, 28-26). Rice and UTEP went back and forth to open the match, but after evening the score at seven apiece on a UTEP attack error, the Owls never trailed for the remainder of the set. A kill by Holderness, her fourth of the set, won the first, 25-20.
Rice started the second set on an 8-3 run, keyed by two kills by Bogan which led to a 25-22 final score. UTEP took a 5-1 lead to start the third set, but the Owls battled back. The third set was the closest of the match, with both teams neck-and-neck for the whole set. After UTEP took a 25-24 lead, a Holderness kill evened the score. After a service error by Rice gave UTEP a 26-25 lead, the Owls scored the next three points on a Holderness kill, a UTEP attack error, and a kill by Bogan that finished off the Miners.
Bogan said she was confident that the Owls would respond positively against UTEP.
"We've had great team chemistry from the beginning," Bogan said. "I was pretty sure that we could come out as a team and take care of UTEP."
Sophomore libero Tracey Lam's 21 digs aided the Owls in their victory over the Miners, and helped her gain C-USA c0-defensive player of the week honors. Rice looks to finish the regular season in strong fashion, and with five matches left, they are only two games behind first place University of Alabama-Birmingham. Volpe knows the rest of the season will not be easy and that her team needs to finish on a positive note.
"We've got challenging matches the rest of the way," she said. "Our remaining opponents are all in the top half of the conference, so we need to step up now to make a strong run in the C-USA and NCAA Tournaments.
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