Click here for updates on the evolving COVID-19 situation at Rice
Rice University’s Student Newspaper — Since 1916

Wednesday, October 27, 2021 — Houston, TX °

Volleyball settles into conference play after brutal non-conference schedule

volleyball-utep-charlie-wells-web
Charlie Wells / Thresher

By Daniel Schrager     10/5/21 10:39pm

​​Just four games into their conference schedule, Rice volleyball has nearly doubled their win total from their ten non-conference games. That’s in large part due to the quality of the Owls’ non-conference opponents, which head coach Genny Volpe said might have been the toughest of any team in college volleyball.

“All five of our losses have been to teams that rank in the top 20 in the [Rating Percentage Index],” Volpe said. “I don’t know many teams that have that resume of competition prior to conference play.”

The Owls’ first ten games featured four teams currently ranked in the top 15 of the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s rankings, including games against the top two teams in this week’s rankings — the University of Texas, Austin and the University of Pittsburgh. Rice went 0-4 in those games, while they were 5-1, including four sweeps, in all other non-conference games. These losses dropped the Owls, who began the season ranked No. 23 in the country, out of AVCA rankings entirely. But according to Volpe, those games allowed Rice to realize their weaknesses with enough time for the Owls to fix them before the postseason.



“Our goal is to win [Conference] USA, and go deep in the NCAA tournament,” Volpe said. “We can’t control a lot of variables, but we have done a great job of scheduling tough [competition] to challenge ourselves and to see what areas we need to improve upon for [conference play].”

Now, as they face the home stretch of their conference schedule, the Owls will look to incorporate what they learned about themselves in those difficult early season games. According to Volpe, before the team can think about a postseason run, they need to work on their consistency in the eight remaining games on their schedule.

“Now we need to prove consistency against our C-USA opponents, and hopefully be peaking at the right time, which is the C-USA tournament,” Volpe said.

So far, the Owls have done just that. Following their two wins against the University of Texas, El Paso over the weekend, the Owls are now 4-0 in conference play, including three sweeps, and 9-5 overall. The team is finally starting to build some momentum as they string together wins, according to junior setter Carly Graham.

“It’s been a great start to conference so far,” Graham said. “We are excited to keep some momentum going through our conference season.”

This trend is nothing new for the Owls. Last year, after going 1-3 in a shortened non-conference schedule, the team went undefeated in conference play, winning nine of their 12 games in straight sets. The year before, the team fared better in non-conference play, losing just one game, but was similarly dominant in the conference. While the team lost one conference game, in five sets against then No. 22 Western Kentucky University, they dropped just one set across their other thirteen conference games.

Given the Owls’ past success in conference play, it would be easy to get overeager and turn towards the postseason. But according to Graham, after such a difficult start to the season, the team needs to prove itself every chance it gets.

“I think we always feel like we have something to prove,” Graham said. “[Each] match we are playing is the most important match of the season.”



More from The Rice Thresher

SPORTS 10/26/21 11:37pm
Soccer beats MTSU in overtime on senior day

Junior midfielder Delaney Schultz sent Middle Tennessee State University home in the 102nd minute on Friday night as she headed in a corner kick in the match’s second overtime period, earning Rice a 2-1 win. The victory snaps a two game losing streak for the Owls and improves their record on the season to 10-5-1.

SPORTS 10/26/21 11:33pm
Make no mistake, joining the AAC is a great move

The American Athletic Conference, as baseball hall of famer Yogi Berra famously said about the future, ain’t what it used to be. With the University of Houston, University of Cincinnati and University of Central Florida all leaving for the Big 12, the AAC will lose arguably its three most valuable members before Rice plays a game in their new conference. Those three were all key to the AAC’s push to become the sixth major conference: UCF made a legitimate College Football Playoff push with back to back undefeated regular seasons in 2017 and 2018, Houston made the men’s Final Four last year and Cincinnati is currently ranked No. 2 in the country in football. To make matters worse, the University of Connecticut, easily the best women’s basketball program in the country, left the AAC in 2020. The conference that Rice will join in a few years will be a far cry from the AAC of recent years.

SPORTS 10/26/21 11:31pm
Football upsets defending CUSA champs in hectic finish

Rice football picked up a road win this past Saturday afternoon as they upset the University of Alabama, Birmingham 30-24. Predicted to lose heavily, the Owls entered their matchup against the defending conference champion Blazers as 23.5-point underdogs. The win on Saturday puts the Owls with a record of 3-4 on the season, including a 2-1 record in C-USA play. Head coach Mike Bloomgren said that he was proud of the team’s win over a Blazers team that has run C-USA in recent years. 


Comments

Please note All comments are eligible for publication by The Rice Thresher.