Volleyball loses five set back-and-forth battle with No. 18 Oregon
After receiving the 30th most votes in last week’s American Volleyball Coaches Association poll, the Rice volleyball team narrowly missed an opportunity to cement their top-25 status in a nail biting loss to No.18 University of Oregon . After winning the first set, the Owls fought off an Oregon comeback to force a fifth set, where they lost 15-11. Following the loss, head coach Genny Volpe said that she was pleased with the performance against such a high caliber team.
“Oregon is a very strong team [that] I believe will compete for the PAC 12 title,” Volpe said. “We had some great moments, especially on the defensive side of the ball … I believe today we proved that we can compete with the best.”
The Owls raced out to a strong start taking the first set 25-21. The combination of a 10-2 Owls run and a plethora of Duck service errors allowed the Owls to take set one. The Ducks bounced back to take sets two and three with scores of 25-21 and 25-20, respectively. In set two, fifth year setter Carly Graham put up 12 of her 53 assists alongside 14 digs to complete a double-double. The Owls soared back to take the fourth set by eight points with a convincing offensive performance tallying 16 kills with a .324 hitting percentage. However after the team’s were even in the fifth set at nine apiece, the Ducks won 6 of the last 8 points to take the match. Despite falling short of the win, Volpe said she was pleased with her team’s ability to adjust mid-match and force the Ducks into an uncomfortable position in the fifth set.
“I was very happy with how we competed ... especially in the opening set,” Volpe said. “After being down by at least six points, we bounced back and found a way to win set one, without much offensive production. It was a great defensive match for both teams, and I was really pleased with how our offense came around after the first set. It came down to one or two plays at the very end that went Oregon’s way. It could have gone either way, so we are trying to look at the positives from this match and bring that into this week’s games.”
Offensively, junior outside hitter Danyle Courtley led the Owls with 22 kills and added on two blocks while junior Sahara Maruska contributed to the effort with 12 kills. Defensively, junior libero Nia McCardell, the back-to-back C-USA Defensive Player of the Week, put up a season high, 32 digs, which is the second most in her career.
A highlight of the loss for the Owls was that Anota Adekunle has added to her list of numerous awards and accolades, which already included multiple Conference-USA First Team selections, 2021VolleyballMag.com Honorable Mention All-American honors and two U.S. Women’s Collegiate National Team selections (2020 and 2022). The fifth year middle blocker from Humble, Texas became the sixteenth Owl in Rice Volleyball history to reach 1,000 career kills. Following the milestone, Volpe said that she was impressed by the milestone, especially considering Adekunle’s position.
“Anota is one of the most exciting, dynamic attackers in college volleyball today,” Volpe said. “You don’t often see this from a middle blocker, but I think this shows how truly special she is. I’m so proud of Anota not only for her play on the court, but for her leadership and competitive spirit that has brought to our program.”
Despite losing to the Ducks, the Owls didn’t leave Oregon empty handed. They opened the tournament with a 3-0 win against the University of California, Davis (25-16, 25-17, 25-9) led by Graham who put up 31 assists, five kills and six digs. Following the tournament, Volpe said that there is still work to be done, but that the Owls showed potential.
“We are still working things out like many other teams at this point in the season so it’s exciting to see our potential,” Volpe said. “We talked about holding ourselves to this match performance standard in practice and I’m looking forward to getting back in the gym with this group.”
Going into the tournament, the Owls were 3-0 and they left Oregon 4-1. After losing their four game win streak, the Owls now look ahead to a difficult non-conference schedule featuring nationally ranked Creighton University and Baylor University. In regards to where the team is at, Volpe said she is pleased with what she has seen so far.
“I think what I appreciate most about this team right now is their eagerness to learn and get better,” Volpe said. “We have a lot of different players that are making contributions each day, which I think makes us a big threat as we head into conference season soon.”
Following their home opener against McNeese State University on Tuesday, the Owls will take on Brown University on Friday, Sept. 9th, at 6 p.m. in the first game of the Adidas Invitational I. Saturday, the Owls take on Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at 3 p.m. followed by a 2 p.m. Sunday showdown with Texas Tech University.
“It will be great to play in front of our fans and be home for the first time this season,” Volpe said.
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In 2019, the Rice volleyball team took on Western Kentucky University in the Conference USA final only to lose in a five-set heartbreaker. They got another shot at the Hilltoppers in the following year’s title game, and again in 2021, but both times WKU came out on top. Just ten days earlier, while not in the conference tournament, the Hilltoppers beat the Owls in a fifth-set tiebreaker to secure the C-USA regular season title. Sunday, though, the result was different. The No. 22 Owls finally made it past their conference rival, on the No. 20 Hilltoppers’ home court no less, to secure a conference title for the first time since 2018. After the match, head coach Genny Volpe said that she was thrilled to see her team rewarded for their efforts all year.
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