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Hold your Mustangs: Volleyball stumped by SMU

Courtesy Rice Athletics

By Diego Palos Rodriguez     10/24/23 11:48pm

Volleyball lost two games to Southern Methodist University last weekend to bring their record to 7-3 in conference, dropping to third in the West Division of the American Athletic Conference. 

The Mustangs got off to a hot start in the first set and maintained their lead to win it 25-23, despite a Rice 9-4 rally. The second set proved to be more competitive for both teams, but the Owls were able to take it after sparking another run of points. The same intensity continued in the third set but with the opposite result, seeing SMU taking a 2-1 lead overall. The Owls could not hang on to the streaking Mustangs in the fourth set, trailing by nine points at one point. SMU took the set to clinch their victory and win their first match against the Owls this last weekend. 

Despite the result, the Owls led or were tied in every statistical category except aces and blocks, which Head Coach Genny Volpe believes played a huge role in the loss of this tight game.

“On Friday, we actually won every statistical category except for reception and blocks in a smaller margin,” Volpe said. “I think if we had not given away so many points in serve-and-receive, we would’ve actually won the match.”

According to sophomore libero Gaby Mansfield, given their previous loss to Florida Atlantic University, the team is taking on a new mentality when dropping sets in games like this.

“Our mentality following last week’s matches is determination,” Mansfield said. “We know we are in a tight spot at the moment but this gives us an opportunity to show our fight and show what Rice Volleyball is.”

This mentality helped turn the Owls’ struggles around to start the second game. Despite a close first set, graduate right-side hitter Emilia Weske and senior outside hitter Danyle Courtley each recorded five kills to push the Owls to a 25-23 win. The intensity continued into the second set where the Owls trailed by six at one point, but made their way back to extend the set into a tiebreaker. Rice, however, conceded a kill and an ace at the end to fall 26-24, tying up the game at one set apiece.

Rice left SMU chasing for most of the third set, maintaining a lead despite making and conceding runs throughout the set. Consistent kills from Courtley and senior outside hitter Sahara Maruska, however, ensured a third-set win for the Owls. The fourth set was just as tight for both teams, being neck-and-neck up until the end when the Mustangs broke away for a three-point set win, once again tying the game.

It all led to an anticipated fifth set that was less than competitive. SMU took an early lead and comfortably held off the Owls for a 15-10 win, giving the game to SMU and extending Rice’s losing streak to three. 

Courtley led the team in kills with 24 followed by Weske with 18. Once again, the Owls led in every category except aces and blocks. According to Volpe, this was a gritty match that could have gone either way.

“It was a dogfight,” Volpe said, “a complete battle with two really good teams that could’ve gone either way, but unfortunately, we had a slow start in set five which we could not recover from.”

The Owls now sit in third place in the West division of the AAC and are tied for fourth in the overall AAC standings. SMU is first in both.

Despite the losing streak, Volpe insists that the team continues to be motivated and is making efforts to fix their mistakes from this weekend.

“Although it was a tough weekend, there’s still a lot of volleyball left to play,” Volpe said. “I know this team is extremely motivated to be great and will get back to work this upcoming week and look to make some changes that will allow us to be better.”

The Owls come back home to play East Carolina University on Friday, Oct. 27 at 4:30 p.m. and host Temple University on Sunday, Oct. 29 at 1 p.m. Both games will be streamed on ESPN+.

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