Volleyball rolls over Red Raiders and Roadrunners
While most volleyball teams would be happy with the results Rice posted last weekend, this year's team heads out west this coming weekend with a bitter taste in their mouth. Hosting the first of two Rice Invitational tournaments, the Owls got off to a hot start against Texas Tech University on Friday evening at Tudor Fieldhouse. Sophomore Laurie McNamara, a transfer from Villanova University, paced Rice's attack in the first set with five kills, while senior setter Meredith Schamun recorded 14 assists, allowing Rice to take the first set 25-23. McNamara would finish with 10 kills, one of three Owls to record double-digit kills.
Rice and Texas Tech traded points to start the second set. After Tech pulled to within one at 12-11, Rice ran off 13 of the next 18 points to take the set 25-16. Junior Ashleigh McCord had five kills in the set, while Schamun continued her strong play with 17 assists. Freshman Mariah Riddlesprigger had five kills in her collegiate debut, leading to praise from Head Coach Genny Volpe.
"Riddlesprigger came off the bench with a huge spark for us," Volpe said. "Her athleticism and aggressiveness were nice to see."
Rice survived a late Texas Tech run in the third set to take the match. After the Red Raiders tied the score at 23, a kill by McCord and a block by sophomore Nancy Cole and Schamun gave the Owls the final two points and the match. McCord had seven kills in the final set, giving her a team-high 15 kills. Cole was the third Owl with double-digit kills, finishing with 10 for the match.
Rice came out flat to start Saturday's first match against the University of Texas-San Antonio. The Owls dropped the first set 25-14, with McNamara serving as one of the few bright spots with four kills. Rice responded positively, however, winning the second set 25-21 with a late 6-2 run punctuated by a kill from Cole. Despite some momentum from the second set, the Owls dropped the third set 25-22, putting themselves in another hole. Schamun believes Rice used the break following the third set to turn their play around.
"We definitely came out with more confidence following the break," Schamun said. "We settled in, started taking things one point at a time, and started playing good volleyball."
Displaying a resiliency that should serve them well over the next few months, Rice opened up a large advantage in the fourth set before holding off the charging Roadrunners. Riddlesprigger and Cole came up big for the Owls in the third set with five and four kills, respectively.
Rice came into the fifth and final set needing 15 points for a win, and freshman Megan Shephard helped them get there with an ace and three blocks. Shephard finished the match with a solid all-around stat line. The Dripping Springs, Texas native had six kills, three aces, five digs and seven blocks. The freshman's play also garnered praise from Volpe.
"Megan blocked really well and was running all over the court," Volpe said. "She worked really hard to get to the right spots and played really well."
Looking for an impressive weekend sweep that would have given them a great start to their season, Rice faced off against the University of Mississippi on Saturday evening. However, with a lack of rest due to their second game of the day following a five-set thriller, Ole Miss came out with more intensity than the Owls and won the first set 25-19 with a 12-6 finish to the set. The Rebels jumped out to a huge lead to start the second set and held off Rice 25-20, giving them a two-set deficit that would be hard to overcome.
While the Owls were able to jump out to a lead to start the third set, they simply ran out of gas, letting the Rebels finish them off with a 25-21 third-set victory. Coach Volpe saw the loss as partly a result of fatigue.
"We didn't have a lot of rest time and made too many uncharacteristic errors," Volpe said. "They flat outplayed us, and we have to learn how to regroup faster."
McCord was the only Owl to finish with double-digit kills, and the junior will help lead Rice out to Malibu, Calif. to take part in this weekend's Pepperdine-Asics Classic. The Owls begin their weekend tonight against Pepperdine University before facing off against the University of Missouri and Eastern Washington University on Saturday. Missouri and Pepperdine are both receiving votes in the most recent AVCA Poll, and while Schamun knows this weekend will be a challenging one, Rice's attitude is crucial to their success.
"We have to treat each opponent the same and play competitively," Schamun said. "We had a great week of practice so far, and we're going out there with high expectations."
The Owls traveled out west last year as well, recording three victories in San Francisco. Despite the experience the team gained last year, this year's six newcomers will be heading out on the road for the first time, a fact not lost on Coach Volpe.
"I definitely think the returning players will remember last year's trip, but a bulk of the team wasn't here and I definitely think that will come into play," Coach Volpe said. "Last year, our team really embraced these trips, so hopefully there are good things ahead this year.
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