Volleyball dominates SMU, swept by Tulsa
Heading up north into the heartland of Texas and into the farmlands of Oklahoma, the Owls knew they would be facing a tough test against the top two teams in Conference USA last season, Southern Methodist University (5-11, 1-3) and the University of Tulsa (13- 4, 4-0). Their trip brought mixed results as the Owls earned a 1-1 split on the weekend, beating SMU and falling short to Tulsa.
On Friday, Rice wanted to start the weekend off right as they went into SMU hoping to steal a victory. The Owls started off on the right talon as they took an early 1-0 lead with a 25-22 set victory. SMU tried to fight back to tie the match but the Rice players showed their resilience by coming up clutch when they needed to as they took the second set, 27-25. SMU tried to open the door and sneak back into the match, as they were triumphant in the third set, 25-23. However, the Owls shut the door on the Mustangs' hopes as they dominated the fourth set, 25-17 to win the match, 3-1. Junior middle blocker Nancy Cole led the team with 21 kills, while freshman outside hitter Lizzy Bache added 20 kills. Sophomore setter Megan Murphy had a game-high 61 assists and a team-high 19 digs to help power the Owls.
On Sunday, the Owls were hoping to finish their weekend perfectly, but they knew it would be difficult as they were traveling to Conference USA favorite, Tulsa. Rice knew they needed a fast start, but the Golden Hurricane crushed those aspirations in a hurry as they took the first set, 25-17. The Owls never stopped fighting, but the Golden Hurricane's talent was too much as it won the next two sets, 25-22 and 25-22, to take the match in a sweep, 3-0. Junior outside hitter Laurie McNamara led the team with 9 kills. Murphy had 28 assists as senior defensive specialist Megan White added 14 digs of her own.
The Owls are now 8-8 on the season with a 3-2 record in Conference USA. After a rough start to the conference season with a loss to the University of Houston, the Owls have rebounded nicely, winning three of their last four. Freshman defensive specialist Daniela Arenas felt that losing to Houston was a tough blow to the team's mindset, but since then they have been determined to not get embarrassed like that.
"Houston was a big hit to our confidence," Arenas said. "We were definitely not going to let anything like that happen again so that really drove us to work harder."
Assistant coach Melissa Ferris agreed with Arenas as she felt that the team responded really well after its letdown loss to Houston. Since then, the team has been working hard and giving it a 100 percent effort every time they step on the floor.
"This team wants to win, they are really driven. I think they responded well by stepping up their game in practice and challenging themselves more," Ferris said. "They are finding out that they are made out of a lot and that they are a lot better than they give themselves credit for."
Ferris sees it everyday as the young Owls are growing and are learning how to play together and fight for one another out on the court.
"They are just growing as a team, learning how to fight together and get the job done," Ferris said. "Their attitudes have been really good as they have stepped up to the challenges presented to them in practice and they have gotten it done."
This weekend, the Owls are traveling up to Huntington, W. Va., where they will play back-to-back matches against the University of Marshall (3-12, 2-3). Last year against Marshall, the Owls split as they won in Huntington 3-0, but got swept at home, 3-0.
Ferris said that although they scouted out Marshall and how the Thundering Herd plays, a lot of their focus leading up to the match was working on their own game play and focusing especially on their offense.
"With our team being so young, we are going to work a lot on our game and our offense," Ferris said. "That is probably going to be the biggest focus heading into the Marshall match."
Arenas stressed what her coaches and teammates had voiced throughout the season and that was consistency. If the Owls are consistent and determined, they have a chance to beat anyone in conference.
"We are definitely going to try to push ourselves even harder than we have been and we definitely need to work on our consistency,"
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Volleyball will compete in the NCAA tournament after receiving an at-large bid to play against the University of Oklahoma in the first round during Sunday night’s Selection Show. Transportation will not be provided for Rice students to the match against OU, but the possibility exists a student bus will travel to College Station on Friday if the Owls win their first round match, according to Rice director of marketing David Pillen.