Volleyball wins every set, sinks Pirates' ship
Against an opponent such as East Carolina University (2-22, 0-15 C-USA), the Owls knew the only way they could slip up was if they beat themselves. With Tulsa University and Southern Methodist University following the week after, it would have been easy for Rice to look ahead and ignore ECU. However, the Owls did not let such distractions take part as they cruised to a perfect weekend, beating ECU twice.
Last Saturday, Rice wanted to make sure it got off to a good start to show ECU how the match was going to be played. The Owls knew that if they dictated the pace early, they would probably get the victory. Rice followed its game plan as it flew past the Pirates early to take a convincing 25-9 set victory. Rice knew it could not let up and it did not as the team took control of the second set to win 25-16 and take a commanding 2-0 lead. After the brief halftime period, the Owls made sure to put ECU away even though the Pirates showed some resilience. Rice held on to win 25-21 in the third set as they swept away ECU. Junior middle back Nancy Cole led the team as she compiled 16 kills. Sophomore setter Megan Murphy had 36 assists and 11 digs to combine for a team-high with senior defensive specialist Megan White.
The Owls came back the next day hoping to make it a perfect two for two on the weekend against ECU. Right from the get-go again, the Owls would not let the Pirates get into the match as they cruised to an easy 25-10 set win. East Carolina tried to show some resistance, but they were nowhere near the Owls' level as Rice easily won the second set 25-18 to take a 2-0 lead. Coming from halftime, the Owls made sure that was all she wrote as East Carolina could not sustain any momentum and Rice took care of the rest as they walked away with a 25-19 victory and another sweep. Cole again had a dominant performance as she had 15 kills of her own. For the second straight game, Murphy compiled 36 assists and even led the team with 13 digs. This was the second straight game that Murphy had recorded a double double for assists and digs.
With the two wins over the weekend, the Owls are now 15-11 on the season and an impressive 10-5 in C-USA, which has them in a three-way tie for second place with the University of Houston and the University of Alabama-Birmingham. This weekend, the Owls are playing host to conference leader Tulsa (23-5, 14-1) and SMU (12-15, 8-7), who is the only team to beat Tulsa in conference play. In their previous meetings earlier this season, the Owls took care of business on the road against SMU as they recorded a 3-1 win in Dallas. However, the same could not be said about the Golden Hurricane because the Owls fell apart in Tulsa, 3-0, two days later.
With Tulsa, Assistant Coach Russell Brock believes that the Owls have enough in the tank to challenge and beat the Golden Hurricane. To him, it is just about executing the game plan and having that belief that they can and will win.
"We are good enough and we have enough talent to beat [Tulsa]," Brock said. "It matters how focused we are, how aggressive we are in dealing with our game plan. It is a big test for us to prove that we belong in that setting."
With SMU, Brock knows that they cannot be overlooked. SMU is not the same team that they were in late September as they have made multiple adjustments. Brock adds that Rice needs to make its own and be ready.
"SMU has changed their offense since the last time we played them and we are going to have to prepare for a different animal," Brock said. "Just because we went in and beat them before, does not mean by any stretch of the imagination that they are going to roll over when they get here."
With the season winding up, the Owls are looking farther than just Tulsa and SMU as the NCAA tournament nears in the month of December. Rice is hoping it can be one of the lucky 64 teams to qualify for the tournament. Sophomore outside hitter Mariah Riddlesprigger sees this weekend and these next five games as an opportunity for the Owls to boost up their chances of landing an at-large bid.
These next two games are extremely important for us to make it into the NCAA tournament," Riddlesprigger said. "Tulsa is a top 25 team and a win against them would really help our RPI. Also, winning the next five games will put us in a good running for maintaining our second place position in Conference USA. Our goal is to make it to the NCAA tournament and winning these games will keep us in the right direction.
Brock knows that the pressure is on and everyone else knows that this is now or never if the team wants to get back to the NCAA tournament after not making it last season.
"We want to make the tournament," Brock said. "If we get big wins down the stretch, we have a great shot. Players know that, coaches know that so it is very important to stay focused."
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