Volleyball goes 1-2 on conference road trip
The Owls earned their extra miles this week as they flew across three time zones in two days to face off against University of Texas- El Paso and the University of Central Florida on the road. Rice was looking to repeat its sweep of UTEP earlier in the season and wanted to get revenge against UCF for a 3-1 defeat at home on Oct. 14. The Owls could not fare better as again they took care of UTEP on the road, but fell for the second time against the Golden Knights.
On Friday, the Owls were taking on UTEP hoping to rebound from their loss to UAB five days earlier. Rice got off to a tough start as they fell behind early in the first set against the Miners. However, the Rice fight would never die as they rallied the troops to come back and capture a 25-21 set win. In the second set, the same pattern happened with the same result. The Owls played sloppy early, but rebounded as they stormed past UTEP and took the second set, 25-22 for a 2-0 lead. Rice would not put their foot off of the gas pedal as they won a hard-fought third set, as there were six lead changes. The Owls were able to hang on by a thread as they took the set 25-22 for the second 3-0 sweep of the season of UTEP. Junior middle back Nancy Cole led the team with 15 kills while sophomore setter Megan Murphy surprised the team with nine kills of her own. Even with all of the kills, Murphy still managed to easily lead the team with 28 assists as senior defensive specialist Megan White netted 16 digs.
The Owls traveled to Florida on Sunday to take on UCF with revenge and a chance at sole position of third place in the conference on the line. The Owls knew they needed to get past a slow start or else that might be their undoing. Rice looked good out of the gate, since they were able to hold off the Golden Knights for a 25-22 set win. The Owls knew putting UCF away was not going to be easy and the Golden Knights made sure of that as they fought back to take a 25-22 set win of their own to tie the match at one set apiece. Out of the period break, the Golden Knights looked like the team that wanted to be out there on the court as they dominated the Owls in the third set to win it 25-18 and take a crucial 2-1 lead. Rice could not rally as UCF had all the stops as they went on to win the third set, 25-17 to win the match, 3-1. Freshman outside hitter Lizzy Bache led the way as she had 13 kills while defensive specialist Megan White recorded 20 digs on the day. The fourth dig was a major milestone for her because it was her 1,000 dig of her career as she is 11th all time on the Rice Owls list for digs. White needs only needs 17 digs to surpass Klara Zelinka (Wiess '02) who had 1,036 in her career.
White said she was very honored to get her 1,000th dig since it is cool that she is going to be remembered in Rice history for her volleyball career.
"That was awesome," White said. "It feels awesome to say that I reached a benchmark in Rice history."
With a win and a loss over the weekend, the Owls are now 13-11 on the season overall and have an 8-5 record in conference to put them in a tie for third place. Head coach Genny Volpe feels that the team cannot come out as sluggish as they did over the weekend. Even against UTEP, head coach Volpe felt that the team struggled a lot at the beginning, but was able to rally at the end.
"I would say that we need to get better at starting out stronger because we were trailing almost the entire weekend even though we beat UTEP," Volpe said. "I would say we need to work on getting stronger and we can not wait to figure out how the opponent is going to play. We need to get out there, get down to business and get it done."
Junior outside hitter Laurie McNamara agrees that slow starts are a problem, but feels that they Owls need to work on changing up their offense and defense to show the opponents something different and surprise them.
"This week in practice we are working a lot on individual skills like defense and hitting different shots to try and find ways to catch teams off guard, " McNamara said. "The rest of the season we are playing teams who we've already played once this season so it will be important to bring something new to the table if we want to continue being successful."
The Owls are back at Tudor this weekend as they are hosting East Carolina University. The Pirates have had a tough year because they have yet to win a single conference match. They have only won one set this entire year in conference play.
Even though East Carolina has a bad record, Volpe implied that the Owls could not look ahead to Tulsa. Volpe feels that the Owls have to focus on their game above all. With the season coming down to the wire, Volpe knows that every game is important and the Owls should be playing their best.
"We have to focus on not who we are playing, but really playing our game," Volpe said. "We have to have a strong finish, start improving, and preparing ourselves. We need to have a strong finish to conference, which is going to be tough as it is going to be a challenge."
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Rice volleyball will get another shot at No. 2 University of Texas, Austin after they swept the University of San Diego on Thursday in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Owls took all three sets against the Toreros by at least five points, en route to the second victory in an NCAA tournament game in program history. After the game, head coach Genny Volpe said she was confident from the get-go.
Most of the way through the 2019 season, I thought that Rice had some of the worst luck in all of college football. Through nine games, the Owls were winless, despite four one-score losses, including an eight-point loss to a Baylor University team that ended the season ranked in the top 15. All signs indicated that the Owls were much better than their 0-9 record and that their bad luck in close games was long overdue to flip. The Owls ended that season with a three-game winning streak, including two one-possession wins, appeared to confirm that theory.
On Saturday, Rice football came back from a ten point deficit in the fourth quarter to defeat Louisiana Tech University 35-31 on Senior Day. The come-from-behind win snapped a four-game losing streak and tallied the Owls fourth win of the season, moving their record to 4-8 and 3-5 in Conference-USA.