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Owls can’t cut down the trees, get swept by No. 5 Stanford


Graduate transfer right-side hitter Emilia Weske hits the ball against Stanford. Rice were swept by No. 5 Stanford in straight sets. Photo courtesy Rice Athletics.

By Cadan Hanson     9/12/23 2:52pm

Volleyball hosted the No. 5 Stanford Cardinals Sept. 5 for their third ranked matchup this season. Despite keeping the game close, the Owls were unable to win a set, and lost in straight sets 25-17, 26-24 and 25-21. Their loss dropped the Owls to 2-3 on the season, having now lost three games in a row. 

After the game, junior middle blocker Kaitlyn Knobbe said that the team fought hard, despite what the scoreboard may suggest.

“There were some really good looks,” Knobbe said. “Obviously, it didn't go how we wanted to but it just gives us that much more to work on.”

Last week, the Owls — earlier this season ranked as high as No. 18 — fell out of the American Volleyball Coaches Association rankings after two straight losses to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette last Tuesday and No. 16 Baylor University Friday night. Despite coming into the Stanford game as underdogs, Knobbe said they were unfazed by their opponents’ rankings.

“We went in with no fear,” Knobbe said. “We were super composed and aggressive, and we went out swinging. I don't think that their ranking scared us at all. If anything, it just made us that much more excited to play that good of competition.”

In the first set, Stanford took the lead in the middle off a 7-0 run. Rice tried to battle from behind but fell short in the set, 25-17. In set two, the Owls fell back early, battled to tie the game 24-24 but conceded two straight points to drop the set. 

With their backs against the wall, the Owls found themselves in a tightly contested third set. However, the Cardinals pulled away late, stretching their lead to six. Down 23-17, the Owls rattled off four straight points, but their comeback fell short, once again, as Stanford clinched the victory.

Despite the loss, the Owls had a strong defensive performance, holding a top-10 Stanford offensive to a below-average hitting percentage of 0.234.

“I think what we're probably most excited about was how we defended them,” Head Coach Genny Volpe said. “When you can play a team like Stanford and defend them and keep their hitters below their averages, that’s great.”

Offensively, Knobbe led the Owls with seven kills in addition to her four blocks, hitting 0.571 in the second set. Senior outside hitter Danyle Courtley added six kills of her own. Volpe said that the way the offense stepped up was promising for the rest of the season.

“One of our goals was to implement our middle attack, because it wasn't there in the last few matches," Volpe said. “The setters have been working hard, and to see Kaitlyn [Knobbe] hitting over 0.400 and Sastasha [Kostelecky] hitting [0.571] to us is exciting because it's going to help the whole team down the road.”

Going forward, the Owls will finish up the non-conference schedule with a pair of tournaments, the Rice Invitational and the Kansas State Invitational. Despite their losing streak, Knobbe is remaining positive and optimistic about the rest of the season. 

“I think there's big things ahead,” Knobbe said. “I feel like we have so much potential that we haven't even reached yet.”

Volpe echoed her middle blocker’s sentiments, saying she is excited to continue improving her team’s skill.

“We have to stay focused and true to the process,” Volpe said. “I am inspired by what I saw today and I’m excited to get back in the gym … Let's keep the ball rolling.”

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