Volleyball looks to finally end streak of second place finishes
The Rice Owls’ women’s volleyball season ended in heartbreak last season when they fell to the then-ranked No. 2 University of Texas Longhorns in the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament. Despite getting knocked out of the tournament by their rival, the Owls were proud of their effort in putting up a competitive effort throughout the match against such a tough opponent, according to head coach Genny Volpe.
“I’m extremely proud of how we played,” Volpe said. “We really wanted to win and it’s unfortunate that we didn’t but I think we met up with a really tough team in the second round.”
In addition to their appearance in the second round of last year’s NCAAs, the Owls also finished as the runners-up in the C-USA Tournament, losing to then-No. 18 Western Kentucky University in the championship game for the third consecutive year.
Building upon their achievements from last season, Volpe, who is entering her 19th season as the head coach of the team, looks to improve upon her team’s 20-7 record last season and their postseason appearances.
“My expectations for this season are pretty much the same as they always are,” Volpe said. “We want to win the conference title and go as deep into the NCAA Tournament as we can.”
Volpe also emphasized the importance of growth and maximizing her squad’s potential as they enter a deep season which stretches into mid-November.
“We want to maximize our potential,” Volpe said. “[We want to] stay process oriented, not result oriented. So we are going to work each and every day to improve ourselves and believe that the results we want will happen because of that work.”
Volpe will return a number of key contributors, including a pair of first-team all C-USA selections in fifth-year seniors Anota Adekunle and Carly Graham. Graham, a setter, earned a spot on the U.S. Women’s Collegiate National Team and was also given Second Team All-American honors by VolleyballMag.com. Graham said that she is excited for the upcoming season as she hopes the team can reach higher heights this year.
“We have worked extremely hard throughout the spring and summer in preparation for this upcoming season and we are excited to get after it all together,” Graham said. “We really want to get out of that second round but know we have to take things one practice and one game at a time as well as knowing the work we have to put in to get that goal.”
Knowing the work that she and her team must put in to reach their goals this season, Graham said that the team will rely on their chemistry and the work ethic they have built in recent years.
“I think a major strength of this team is how hard we work and the buy-in we have towards working towards our goals as a team,” Graham said. “Similarly, our team chemistry is a great strength which allows us to be able to work hard for the people next to you which I think is really important. It really is a special group and I’m so excited to keep practicing and competing with them.”
The team will be without outside hitter Nicole Lennon, the program’s all-time leader in kills, after her eligibility ran out at the end of last season. Returning outside hitters Ellie Bichelmeyer and Sahara Marsuka, who ranked third and fourth on the team in kills respectively, will help fill the void left by Lennon, but Volpe said that having a variety of attacking options across their offense to turn to in her place will be a strength for the team.
“I think some of the strengths of our team this year would be the ability to balance our attack [as] we have multiple attack options, our floor defense, and our overall setting,” Volpe said. “Not only do we have a returning All American in Carly Graham, but we have Izzy Rawlings and Darby Harris who are both very capable of running a high level offense. Returning 5th year senior Anota Adekunle is also a huge threat to our opponents.”
The Owls will kick off their season at noon this Friday, August 26th in Baton Rouge when they face off against the University of Houston Cougars in the Tiger Classic. Following their game against the Cougars, the Owls will play Samford University later Friday afternoon at 5 p.m.
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