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Wednesday, April 17, 2024 — Houston, TX

Volleyball takes down undefeated Texas Tech, improves to 8-1

Katherine Hui / Thresher

By Daniel Schrager     9/13/22 11:40pm

Up 13-12 in the fifth set against a then-undefeated Texas Tech University team, fifth-year senior middle blocker Anota Adekunle took the game into her own hands. First, the three time first-team all conference selection put an end to a long rally that saw Texas Tech threatening to tie with an emphatic kill to bring match point. Then, she rose above the net to stop a Tech attack in its tracks and seal the comeback win for the Owls. According to Adekunle, she knew that if she stayed at the net, she would find herself in the right place at the right time.

“I knew the score was really close,” Adekunle said. “I was just trying to be up on defense on every play and fight for my team. I just knew if I would be up, something would happen.”

The win capped off a 3-0 weekend for the Owls, who hosted Brown University and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi in addition to the Red Raiders in the first of their two Adidas Invitational events this season. The Owls swept Brown on Friday, winning each set by six or more points. Saturday’s game against Corpus Christi was closer, with the Islanders twice reaching 20 points in a set, but the Owls still secured their sixth sweep of the year. According to head coach Genny Volpe, she was impressed with how her offense, which hit .377 through the first two games, performed over the weekend.

“Our offensive efficiency has been really good,” Volpe said. “I’m most pleased that there’s not one person that’s doing all the work and getting all the points, we’ve got a nice balance of players contributing.

Sunday’s game was the main event, when the undefeated Red Raiders, who had also swept their other two opponents on the weekend, took the court at Tudor. Tech stormed out to a quick lead against the Owls, taking six of the first seven points. Rice rallied from a 20-10 deficit but still lost the set 25-17. According to Adekunle, the team was caught off guard by Tech’s fast start.

“I think it definitely was a shock,” Adekunle said. “We talked about staying engaged in the game and playing Rice volleyball. I know on the other side of the court they get really hyped and they play their own game, but just sticking together fighting for each other and playing Rice volleyball really helped us bounce back.”

Volpe made an important change in between the first two sets as well, bringing in sophomore outside hitter/right side Lola Foord to free up freshman setter Darby Harris and allow her to help fifth-year senior setter Carly Graham run the offense. According to Volpe, this change gave the Owls offense the exact spark it needed.

“We started out pretty flat,” Volpe said. “I was a little surprised by it. We did make an adjustment and went to a different offense, so I brought in another attacker to get more offense going. Darby ended up setting as well as Carly, instead of Carly setting the whole time. Lola Foord came in and she added a nice spark. And I think that kind of changed the momentum for the entire match.”

The switch didn’t pay off right away, as Tech got out to a 9-4 lead in the second, but Rice scored the next five points to even the set. The teams traded points and Tech took a 21-20 lead, before Rice went on another five-point rally to win the set and tie the match.

The teams started out the third set evenly as well, before four kills from senior outside hitter Ellie Bichelmeyer, who earned conference offensive player of the week honors for her effort, propelled a 9-0 Rice run and the Owls ran away with the set 25-15. The Red Raiders wouldn’t go away that easily though, and they rode an 11-5 run of their own to a 25-18 fourth set victory. With the game on the line, Volpe said she told her team to treat the decisive fifth set like any other.

“I told them, ‘hey, this is just like practice, there’s just more people watching,’” Volpe said. “I could tell they were getting really amped. They wanted it so bad that I was just trying to say, ‘hey, we know who we are, let’s just run our plays and find a way to win the game.’”

A 4-0 run halfway through the set helped the Owls get out to a two-point lead, but the Red Raiders stopped the damage before slowly closing the gap to one point at 13-12. Then Adekunle came through with her late game heroics and the Owls sent the Red Raiders back to Lubbock with their first loss of the year.

Now 8-1, the Owls host the second part of the Adidas Invitational next weekend when they take on Kansas State University and No. 17 Creighton University.

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