San Francisco sweep jumpstarts volleyball season
The good times kept rolling for the volleyball team as the Owls thrashed three opponents over the weekend in the University of San Francisco Challenge. The victories improved the Owls' record to 7-1, cementing their status as the Conference USA favorites as the season goes into full tilt. With their impressive record in tow, the Owls now look forward to the second Mizuno Invitational, a tournament they will host at Tudor Fieldhouse this coming weekend. Rice opens today against the University of South Carolina, which comes in with an unblemished 6-0 record. Rice will then start their Saturday against Harvard University (2-2) before facing Wichita State University in the evening.
Rice is looking to avenge its first-round loss in last year's NCAA Tournament to the Shockers (6-1). Wichita State, which made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, recently rolled over the University of Oklahoma, the only team to defeat the Owls this year. The Shockers, who are currently 25th in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll, ended Rice's season last year with their 30th-straight win in 2009.
"There's no denying the revenge element to Saturday night's game [against Wichita State]," Head Coach Genny Volpe said. "The team was a little bitter about how it ended last year, but we've talked about keeping our emotions in check so we can execute our game."
Junior setter Meredith Schamun expects quality play from the team's upcoming opponents.
"We've played both teams in the past, and we expect really competitive rematches," Schamun said. "We're going to have to work hard for wins, but we're ready to rise to the challenge."
Rice certainly rose last weekend, beginning with its contest against San Diego State University, a team known for its strong defense. The Owls, however, were able to overcome the Aztecs (3-2) in the tightest match they have had this season (25- 19, 25-23, 21-25, 19-25, 15-13).
Rice opened up a 9-2 lead to start the first set on the strength of its attacking and a series of errors by SDSU. The Owls maintained their lead throughout the first set, never letting their advantage slip below four, and eventually winning 25-19. Schamun led the Owls with 11 assists, while senior Natalie Bogan's 14 kills were a big boost for the team.
Neither team ran away with the second set. After the Aztecs took an early lead, the Owls battled back to take an 11-5 lead after a block by sophomore outside hitter Ashleigh McCord. The Owls did not trail again in the set until SDSU took a 23-22 lead. However, an attack error by the Aztecs and back-to-back kills by senior outside hitter Jenn McClean gave the Owls a 2-0 set advantage.
McClean had six kills during the set, and Schamun was comfortable setting assists to McClean during the whole weekend.
"As a setter, I knew Jenn was one of our go-to hitters," Schamun said. "I knew she would get the job done if she needed to."
The Aztecs toppled Rice 25-21 to stay alive in the third set, and managed to take the fourth set 25-19 to tie the match at two sets apiece.
The Owls needed to win the fifth set in order to defeat the Aztecs after squandering their two previous chances. Rice surged early before SDSU climbed ahead 7-5. However, two service aces by Schamun spurred a 4-0 run that put Rice ahead for good. SDSU climbed to within one point at 14-13, but a kill by McClean ended the set and the match.
McClean had four kills during the decisive set, and her 19 kills for the match led the Owls. The senior would go on to be named the MVP of the tournament, an award Volpe thought was well deserved.
"Jenn McClean was a huge part of our success this weekend," Volpe said. "She played a great all-around game all weekend."
Rice continued play on Saturday against California State University- Northridge, another strong defensive squad. The Owls started fast and eventually defeated the Matadors (2-4) in three sets (25-12, 25-18, 25-18).
Rice's early lead cemented a first-set victory, and the Owls never trailed during the second set, slowly building up a lead and eventually winning 25-18. Cal State-Northridge fought back to within four points after Rice took a 6-1 advantage, but got no closer as the Owls closed out the match with a McCord kill, her sixth of the set.
Junior libero Tracey Lam's defense was crucial during the third set and throughout the match, and her 14 digs led the Owls. Bogan's eight blocks also aided the Owls' defense, and Volpe thought the strong blocking made Rice's defensive play complete.
"Our floor defense has always been strong, but our blocking really came together this weekend," Volpe said. "Our high blocking numbers and strong digging put us in a good position to win."
The Owls closed out their play in California with a four-set victory over the host squad, the University of San Francisco (20-25, 25-14, 25-22, 25-16).
USF (2-5) jumped out to a 4-0 lead to start the first set and never looked back, taking the first set.
The second set reversed the first's trend as Rice began with a 7-0 run. Bogan and McClean combined for 31 kills to lead a strong Rice offense that evened the match at one set apiece.
The Dons jumped out to a 6-1 lead to start the third set, but the Owls fought back to tie the set at seven. After some back-and-forth action, Rice took the lead for good at 16-15 on a kill by Schamun. McClean's kill, her seventh of the set, gave the Owls a two-to-one set advantage.
In the fourth set, Rice and USF traded points until the Owls took a 9-5 lead on a Boulavsky block. Rice maintained a small advantage throughout before a block by junior middle blocker Caroline Gill gave the Owls a 21-14 lead. A few points later, a McClean kill, her 21st, ended the match.
Once again, Lam's defense set the tone for the Owls. Last season's C-USA Libero of the Year recorded 25 digs against USF. It was McClean's 21 kills, however, that stole the show, as she led an attacking offense that had USF on its heels for much of the match. McClean registered 45 kills for the weekend, a key reason she was named MVP. Schamun, the preseason C-USA co-Player of the Year, also had a big weekend, notching an impressive 137 assists over the course of the three matches.
While Schamun put up strong individual numbers, she cited her team's chemistry as a key element to their recent success.
"I'm proud of how we took care of business as a team this weekend," Schamun said. "Everyone hit well and we were very cohesive in putting together a solid performance.
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