Volleyball splits weekend matches, still in fourth
Yet again, the volleyball team had an up-and-down weekend in more ways than one. The Owls (12-10, 7-4 C-USA) had an irregular home/ road split this weekend as they played at home Friday against the University of Memphis (15-9, 4-7 C-USA) and went on the road Sunday to play the University of Alabama-Birmingham (18-5, 8-3 C-USA). The joy of home on Friday was over whelming for the Owls, but they could not keep the momentum as they left the comfort of the hedges to go to Alabama.
On Friday, the Owls played Memphis inside Tu dor Fieldhouse, trying to get the weekend started off right with a win against the Tigers. The Owls soared high early as they comfortably took the first set 25-19. Knowing how important a 2-0 lead would be in the match, Rice did not lose its focus and kept on playing aggressively on both sides of the ball. The Owls kept control of the match as they cruised to a 25-17 win. After the 10-minute period break, the Owls made sure that they buried the Tigers. Rice dominated the third set as they beat up the Tigers 25-14 to sweep the match 3-0. Junior middle blocker Nancy Cole led the team with 12 kills as junior outside hitter Laurie McNamara added 9 of her own. As usual, sophomore setter Megan Murphy led the way with 33 assists while senior defensive specialist Megan White had a game to remember as she put up 15 digs.
On Sunday, the Owls had to make a short stop in Birmingham to take on UAB, which at the time of the match was tied for third with the Owls in the Conference USA standings. This match had impor tant conference positioning on the line, and Rice knew it would be important to get a leg up on the Blazers. In a hostile environment, the Owls knew they had to put up a fast start and not fall behind early. In an entertaining first set, Rice edged out the Blazers to win the set 29-27 to take a 1-0 lead. How ever, the Blazers were not just going to get knocked out by one set. UAB would not let the Owls take over the match as they won the second set 25-22 to tie up the match. It did not get any easier, as both teams were very unwilling to give up ground. It was the Owls who blinked first as UAB squeaked right by the Owls with a 25-23 third set win. Rice fought hard, but UAB finished them off with a 25-21 fourth set win to take the match at 3-1. Cole had a massive day as she had a game-high 20 kills. Sophomore outside hitter Mariah Riddlesprigger added 12 kills as well. Murphy had an impressive game, notching 43 assists and White scored 23 digs. Freshman de fensive specialist Daniela Arenas also had a career day as she put up 19 digs.
With the 1-1 split on the weekend, the Owls are 12-10 overall for the year with a solid 7-4 record in Conference USA. Head Coach Genny Volpe was very impressed with the win on Friday against Memphis, but was left looking for more in the UAB match. In Sunday's match, Volpe felt that the defense could have been better, as the team still hasn't reached its peak.
"Blocking-wise we did well, but our defense was still very up and down," Volpe said. "Against UAB, we did not pick up as well on the tips and throws as we should have. We dug the hard-driven balls pretty well, but we didn't pick up some of the hard-driven stuff that they threw at us. Defensive ly, we still have to make improvements."
Cole viewed the defense in a different way, as she felt she has seen tremendous improvement and mentioned that the strong play of the back row players has helped the team out in many ways.
"I think our defense has gotten a lot better," Cole said. "Our back row players have stepped up; they are expecting balls to come to them. They have been running down balls that we haven't got ten in the past."
This weekend, the Owls are back on the road, as they have an away game Friday against the Uni versity of Texas-El Paso and on Sunday at Orlando against the University of Central Florida. The Owls played both opponents at home earlier in the sea son with mixed results. Rice dominated UTEP in a 3-0 sweep. UCF was a different story, as they took control of the match and edged out the Owls in a 3-1 affair.
Volpe feels that the Owls have to stick to their game plan that worked so well against the Miners, but that Rice has to be ready for the loud gym, as the Miner fans will bring the energy.
"We have to be prepared for a UTEP team that has a loud gym," Volpe said. "We have to be ready, as they did not play as well as I thought they would when they came here, and they will play better at home."
Cole feels that the Owls have to do a better job of covering UCF's outside hitters. Along with that, Cole knows adjustments will have to be made in terms of defending their tips and throw shots, the same problem the Owls had with UAB last weekend.
"For UCF, we need to be practicing defending their outside hitters and also looking at notes from the game that we can improve on," Cole said. "We were not picking up their tip or throw shots, which threw us off."
With these games on the road and with confer ence play winding down, Volpe thinks that the team knows the technical stuff, but needs to add that confidence that will take this team to the next level.
"It is more about understanding who we are," Volpe said. "We are one of the best teams in the league, and we got to approach every match with that confidence that we can go out there and get it down, that we believe we can beat everyone that we play."
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