Volleyball earns first-round bye for C-USA tournament
The volleyball team entered last Thursday's match against the University of Houston riding high, having won 11 of their last 12. Instead of continuing their winning ways, the University of Houston upset Rice. The loss to Houston dropped Rice to third in the final Conference USA standings, meaning the Owls will have the third seed in the upcoming C-USA Tournament. The tournament began Thursday and concludes with the final on Sunday in Memphis, Tenn. Rice does not play on the tournament's opening day due to their place in the top four of the C-USA standings. Head coach Genny Volpe thought the bye would be extremely beneficial to the team's tournament chances.
"There's a lot to be said about being able to scout the University of Memphis and the University of Texas-El Paso," Volpe said. "It's the first time this program has had a bye in the C-USA Tournament, and it's definitely beneficial."
Instead, the Owls open the tournament on Friday at 7 p.m. against the winner of Thursday's match between sixth-seeded Memphis and eleventh-seeded UTEP. Rice went a combined 3-0 against Memphis and UTEP during the regular season, losing a total of one set in the three matches.
A win on Friday by Rice would put them in the semifinals on Saturday at 4 p.m. Another win would put the Owls in the tournament final, which takes place on Sunday at 2 p.m. Sunday's final will be televised by the CBS College Sports Network. Rice has not won the C-USA Tournament since joining the league in 2004.
The Owls hoped to enter the tournament on a six-game win streak, but UH had other ideas for Rice, dropping the Owls in three sets. UH opened the first set on a 7-2 run, but the Owls responded by closing the deficit to 10-8 on a team block by sophomore setter Meredith Schamun and sophomore middle blocker Caroline Gill. Rice eventually tied the score at 16 on a kill by Schamun, but they would never take the lead. UH finished the set on a 9-1 run, winning the first set 25-17.
UH jumped out to a 6-1 lead to start the second set, but the Owls battled back to pull within one point at 9-8 on a UH attack error. UH and Rice would go back and forth for the remainder of the set, with neither team taking more than a three point lead at any point. After the Owls took a 28-27 lead, UH scored the last three points of the set to win 30-28 and take a two set to zero lead.
Needing to win the third set to avoid defeat, the Owls jumped out to a 5-3 lead on the strength of two kills by senior outside hitter Karyn Morgan. After trading points, the Cougars took an 11-9 lead on a Rice attack error. Four straight Rice points, capped off by a kill by junior middle blocker Natalie Bogan, gave the Owls a 13-11 lead. The Cougars refused to quit, later going on a 4-0 run to take a 24-22 lead. After a service error by UH cut the lead to one, a team block by UH gave the Cougars the victory in the third set and in the match. Volpe could not pinpoint any one area that contributed to Thursday's loss.
"We just had a bad day all-around," Volpe said. "UH just came out after us. Every team has a bad day once in awhile, and it was bad timing for us that it came against our rival."
The loss evened the season series at one win apiece, with both teams defending their home court. With the regular season complete, the Owls now turn their attention to the C-USA Tournament, where an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament is on the line. Despite their recent loss, Volpe does not think the team's tournament chances will be affected.
"We have had some really great practices leading up to the tournament," Volpe said. "The team recognized that we were not ourselves against UH. We've been consistent all year long, and we still have that expectation going into the tournament.
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