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Slow start clips wings of Rice Volleyball in loss to No. 15 Baylor

By Cadan Hanson     9/5/23 11:56pm

The No. 18 Rice Owls fell to No. 16 Baylor Bears on the road Friday, losing three sets and winning one with scores of 25-13, 25-14, 24-26, and 25-23. The Owls’ late comeback attempt was not enough to overcome the early deficit, dropping the Owls to 2-2 on the year, their second straight loss. 

According to senior outside hitter Danyle Courtley, despite an uncharacteristic slow start, the Owls were able to make a stand at the end and show their capabilities.

“The first two sets were not played like Rice volleyball, and everyone on the team knows that,” Courtley said. “During the final two sets, we saw more of what I know this team is capable of. Even though the game didn't end how we wanted it to, we really fought hard.”

The Owls came out swinging from the first serve, taking a 6-2 lead behind a pair of blocks from senior middle blocker Satasha Kostelecky. However, the fiery start was quickly quenched later in the first set when the Bears went on a 14-1 run, fueling a 12 point first set win. 

Riding the momentum from set one, Baylor took control of the second set early and powered forward to win it by a similar margin. Offensively, the Owls struggled to find the same success that they had earlier in the season and were outhit by the Bears in the first two sets 0.267 and 0.200 to -0.036 and -0.063, respectively. According to Courtley, the offensive struggles were due to a lack of rhythm compounded with the strong Baylor defensive line.

“I believe our offense struggled early on because we weren't in rhythm with our setters,” Courtley said. “Setter-hitter connections are one of the most important parts of the game and when it's not clicking, it's a lot harder to score points. Also, Baylor had a solid block which caused a few unforced errors from us trying to avoid it.”

Rice looked like a different team going into the third set. The Owls went on a 6-0 run to start the set fueled by three team blocks and three kills from Courtley, who led the Owls with 16 kills, hitting 0.314. After a back-and-forth set the Bears led a late comeback, tying the set at 24. But the Owls connected on two kills from Courtley and Graduate transfer Emilia Weske. 

The Owls’ third set performance was also fueled by senior setter Izzy Rawlings, who assisted on 11 of the Owls’ 14 kills in the set, contributing to her career-high 29 assists in the game. Overall, Courtley was happy about how the Owls came out and fought in the third set.

“In the [third and fourth] sets, we were getting them out of our system more and we capitalized on the easy plays,” Courtley said. “I noticed more of a fight on our side of the court, and I think everyone was more confident in their play compared to the first two sets.”

Defensively, Rice was able to slow down the red-hot Baylor offense in the third and fourth sets. Kostelecky led the team with six blocks while senior libero Nia McCardell also had a season-high 21 digs. According to Courtley, the Owls’ defense helped fuel the late comeback push.

“Our defense started getting more touches and we had more opportunities to convert on offense,” Courtley said. “We were able to slow down their hitters with some good blocks and block touches which put us in a better position to attack back.”

Late in the fourth set, the Owls found themselves down 24-20. They fended off three match points until ultimately falling 25-23. Despite the tough loss, Courtley explained that the Owls can take this game as a learning experience.

“We now know what the standard of this team is and what level we need to be playing at if we want to win,” Courtley said. “It was another good learning experience that will benefit us in the games going forward.”

The Owls look to use these lessons when they host No. 5 Stanford University on Tuesday night. The Owls are no stranger to big games having already played two ranked teams this year, but the team knows that this will be a challenge.

“Looking towards the Stanford game, we need to get in rhythm with our setters on offense and have more of a balanced offensive game,” Courtley said. “This team has so much potential and when we're all clicking, it's hard to stop us. I believe that if we step up in all aspects of our game and attack them first, the outcome of this game will be in our favor.”

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