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Volleyball picks up two wins at SFA, loses to UH

By Dan Elledge     9/21/11 7:00pm

Finishing, finishing, finishing. That has been the main problem for the volleyball team this year as they dropped another five-set match on the weekend, this time to the University of North Dakota last Friday at the Chilly Fillmore's Stephen F. Austin Invitational.

Rice got off on the right foot as they took the first set from North Dakota 25-23. Even though the Owls dropped the second set, they looked to be on their way as they took the third set comfortably, 25-17. Rice could not put the Fighting Sioux away as they lost the fourth set in heartbreaking fashion, 25-23. The Owls did not show up to compete in the fifth set as North Dakota dominated and won 15-5 to win the match, 3-2. Junior outside hitter Laurie McNamara led the team with 11 kills and 16 digs while junior middle blocker Nancy Cole added 10 kills of her own. Sophomore setter Megan Murphy piled up 35 assists in the loss.

Five-set matches have been the Owls' kryptonite this year as they have now dropped to 1-4 in five-set matches this year. Head Coach Genny Volpe voiced her frustration as she feels that going to five sets is daunting for the players at this point and that the Owls have to finish opponents earlier.

"We were pretty disappointed in the loss because we felt like we could have taken that team in four and we ended up losing," Volpe said. "Right now, we are showing that we really need to put teams away before five because we have lost many matches in five games."

The Owls did end the tournament on a good note as they beat both Sam Houston State University (7-7) and Stephen F. Austin State University (6-8) 3-1 and 3-0 respectively. Cole, McNamara and sophomore Mariah Riddlesprigger led the Owls with 11 kills apiece against SHSU, while Murphy tallied 47 assists. Against SFASU, Cole, McNamara and freshman Lindsay Bache had nine kills to lead Rice over the Ladyjacks.

Coming back to play at Tudor Fieldhouse for the first time since their win over Georgia Tech on Sept. 3, the Owls hosted long-time conference rival the University of Houston last Tuesday to start Conference USA play. What the volleyball team hoped was going to be a jumpstart to their conference season ended in a thud as the Cougars wrecked the Owls 3-0.

In the first set, the Owls fought Houston neck and neck, as they were tied 19-19. After that point, the Cougars ran away and never came back as they won the next six points to take the set, 25-19. The Owls fought back in the second set, but could never find the crucial points when they needed to as Houston edged them out by winning the set, 26-24. Rice tried to extend the match, but the Cougars were too powerful and ended up winning the third set, 25-22. Sophomore outside hitter Mariah Riddlesprigger led the team with 12 kills along with eight kills from Cole. Murphy again led the team with 34 assists and also in digs as she had 15.

With the loss, the Owls are now 5-7 for the year and 0-1 to start off the 2011 C-USA campaign. Volpe felt that Houston (8-3, 1-0 C-USA) capitalized on its opportunities when they had to put points away, but the Owls were not as advantageous.

"We made errors at critical times, which blew our momentum and gave Houston confidence as they did a much better job at getting a ball and putting it away," Volpe said.

Murphy was not only disappointed that the Owls could not conquer the Cougars and start off Conference USA on a good note, but also said that Rice needs to get over the loss and get ready for Tulane University (5-6), who the Owls are playing tonight.

"We were excited to open conference against UH, but we didn't play our best match, and we couldn't finish when the game got close," Murphy said. "It is definitely tough to lose the first match of conference, but we will use these next few days to come together and to work our hardest to get better."

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