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Saturday, April 01, 2023 — Houston, TX

Volleyball climbs near top of C-USA

By Dan Elledge     10/19/11 7:00pm

The Owls returned to the friendly confines of Tudor Fieldhouse hoping to add to their dominating two-game sweep at Marshall University the previous weekend. However, home was not totally sweet for Rice, as the team fell to the rising University of Central Florida. It did recover later in the weekend when the Owls easily took care of the University of Texas-El Paso.

On Friday, the Owls hosted UCF, hoping to add to their impressive 5-2 conference record as the regular season title chase was heating up. Rice did not know that the game started at 7 p.m. Central Standard Time and was absent in the first set. UCF dominated and comfortably took the set, 25-14. After getting knocked in the mouth, the Owls got right back up and clawed their way to a 26-24 set victory to tie the match up at one set apiece.

After the second set break, UCF came out strong and cruised to a 25-17 set win. With a 2-1 lead, UCF pushed their foot down on the gas pedal just enough to make sure that Rice's fight did not get them back in the game as they held on for a 25-21 set win and a 3-1 match victory. Junior middle back Nancy Cole led the team with 11 kills. Sophomore setter Megan Murphy had 36 assists and senior defensive specialist Megan White along with sophomore outside hitter Mariah Riddlesprigger notched 12 digs.

On Sunday, the Owls were hoping to salvage something for the weekend as they were taking on UTEP in an afternoon match. Unlike the Friday match, the Owls came out swinging first, edging out the Miners to take the first set, 25-22. It did not get much easier for the Owls as UTEP kept pushing them. Rice would not budge, fighting them off for a 25-23 second set victory. The Owls swept them in three sets as they put them away, 25-21 in the third set. Freshman middle back Jillian Humphrey played a huge role in the win, leading the Owls with 11 kills. Murphy had a game-high amount of assists with 39 while White added an impressive 18 digs of her own.

After the weekend, the Owls are now 11-9 on the season with a 6-3 record in conference. Head Coach Genny Volpe prides herself on team defense and has been very pleased with the improvement the team has shown in their blocking over the course of the season.

"As the season has gone on, we have improved mostly a lot on our blocking, it has come around," Volpe said. "Our blocking has shown more discipline than it used to."

Cole fully agreed with her coach and has noticed leaps and bounds in terms of where their blocking is now, compared to the beginning of the season.

"I think the one thing we have improved on the most is our blocking," Cole said. "We are an extremely large force at the net and rarely do balls cross the net without a touch from our block. We take the differences we see in each game and tweak our blocking moves accordingly and this is what makes us so diverse at the net."

With their improved blocking and team defense, the Owls head into this weekend with a rare home/away split as they will be taking on the University of Memphis on Friday night at Tudor Fieldhouse and playing at the University of Alabama-Birmingham on Sunday.

Volpe is equally worried about both teams as she feels they both bring different skill sets to the table and that each team can be tough for the Owls to handle in various ways.

"UAB plays hard," Volpe said. "They don't necessarily have a disciplined approach to the way they play, but they are really scrappy and they are really tough. So we are expecting them to play hard and they are big. Memphis has an outstanding outside hitter, in junior Altrese Hawkins, who is the most dynamic player in conference in my opinion."

Being about halfway done with the conference season, Volpe realizes this is a major point for the Owls since this weekend can help them gain momentum for the final stretch. Even though the preseason polls picked them to be sixth, the Owls are currently in fourth and Volpe thinks they can do better than that.

"Our goal is to finish in the top three and that goal is in our reach as we are right there," Volpe said. "If we can outwork teams and play better, there is no reason to believe that we can't finish in the top three or top two."

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