It is easy for Rice varsity athletic teams to gain campus-wide recognition for their achievements.
Rice women’s basketball continued its losing streak this week with its third and fourth consecutive conference losses.
Selfoss, Iceland rests on the southern edge of Iceland’s Golden Circle. With a population of only 6,500, it is nevertheless the largest town in southern Iceland and a hub of commerce.
Rice volleyball opened its 2015 season with a trip to Austin, Texas for the American Campus Classic this weekend. The Owls began the tournament with a 0-3 loss against the nationally ranked No. 3 University of Texas, Austin on Friday afternoon. On Saturday, Rice made a dramatic comeback against Louisiana State University following a 2-0 deficit and completed the tournament with a 3-1 win against University of California, Irvine.Junior libero Kimberly Vaio said she attributes Friday’s loss to the team’s anxiety.“First matches typically are not the cleanest; we went into UT and the first set environment and the nerves got to us,” Vaio said. “We were missing serves, the passes weren’t crisp and we were making errors at the wrong times.”Rice struggled on offense during their match against UT. The Owls trailed behind the Longhorns, hitting only .067 compared to UT’s .333. According to Head Coach Genny Volpe, Rice was unable to compete against Texas’ consistent offense.“They had firepower coming from all directions and a great setter who ran a very balanced offense,” Volpe said. “We had trouble defending this and, more importantly, had a hard time getting our offense going due to their tough serving.”Despite the loss, Vaio said the match against UT prepared the Owls to face LSU.“Though we lost, we knew we had things to work out and we knew that our best volleyball was yet to come,” Vaio said. “It made us that much more motivated for LSU.”Following Friday’s loss, Rice rallied back Saturday morning and beat LSU after overcoming a 2-0 deficit. According to Vaio, the Owls were frustrated after the first two games against LSU and every member of the team was committed to rallying back and winning the match. “We all knew that we were the better team and we were tired of giving them the game, so we looked at each other and we made a commitment that we were going to win the next three games,” Vaio said. “Each one of us knew that there was no other option than winning and we were ready to do everything it took to pull it off.”The last time the Owls beat the Tigers was Nov. 27, 2009, and Rice’s all-time record against LSU is a mere 3-19. Volpe said she attributes the surprising victory to mental toughness.“This team is certainly showing that they are resilient and that they are mentally tough,” Volpe said. “It takes that level of mental toughness to come back and win against a solid program, after losing five straight sets in a row.”Rice completed the weekend with a 3-1 win against UC Irvine and finished second in their opening tournament. Vaio said she was proud of her team’s performance and improvements from past seasons. “I am really proud of the team for our performance this weekend,” Vaio said. “It’s tough to bounce back from a loss right away,but we proved that we have the mindset to do it. Also,for the past three years we have struggled winning fifth games and we proved right off the bat that even if we are down by two games, we have what it takes to finish.”According to Volpe, the Owls need to improve on their consistency and execution on offense.“We need to improve our consistency,” Volpe said. “We were up and down all weekend which made us less efficient. We will continue to work on this and keep pressing the envelope in what we can do offensively.” The Owls will next play at Yale University on Sept. 4, where they will face off against University of California, Santa Barbara.
Following a successful 2014 campaign, Rice volleyball will look to build off of its momentum to capture a Conference USA title and an NCAA tournament bid this fall. Rice last appeared in the 2014 C-USA championship game where they fell to Western Kentucky University and the team’s overall record (23-10) was the fifth-best in school history. Rice was picked by the conference’s coaches to finish third in their conference behind University of Texas, San Antonio and WKU.According to Head Coach Genny Volpe, consistent leadership and a balanced offense led to last season’s successes.“Last season we had some great senior leadership. … We had several players pushing each other every day in practice, which led us to improve over the course of the season,” Volpe said. “We also had a very balanced offense, which we look forward to replicating this year. … We really stepped up our kill numbers and our hitting efficiency was one of the best in the nation.”Newly elected captain and junior libero Kimberly Vaio said the team’s strongest asset last season was the its cohesiveness on and off the court.“We wore the same shirts to practice, ate team meals without cell phones and made decisions as a unit,” Vaio said. “Our discipline we demonstrated off the court translated to our positions on the court; we were mentally prepared before matches, and we welcomed adversity with confidence because we knew that together we could overcome anything.”Despite their strengths and ability to work together, Rice was unable to earn the C-USA title and advance to the NCAA tournament. Volpe said last season’s shortcomings were due to an inability to finish at critical moments. However, Volpe said she believes the fresh team will not suffer from the same issues.“We were in the driver’s seat on some occasions against really strong teams, including the C-USA championship match, and we didn’t finish,” Volpe said. “This is a new team with a lot of new faces; I believe that those issues have not carried over to this group.”This season, Rice has 11 returning players and four new additions, including a transfer student, a junior walk-on and two freshmen. Volpe is confident in her players’ abilities despite the loss of strong players such as Jillian Humphrey.“We have a strong group of returners, even though we lost some key players from last year’s squad,” Volpe said. “This could be the best team in terms of depth we have had in the history of Rice volleyball.”According to Volpe, the team needs to concentrate on winning conference.“We are very focused on competing at the highest level we can every time we step on the floor,” Volpe said. “We want to win C-USA and make it to postseason. We were very close last year, and want to finish strong this year.”The Owls will begin their season Aug. 28 against the University of Texas, Austin.
In response to Greg Williams’ recent retirement, the Rice University Athletic Department has appointed a new women’s basketball coach: former Maryland University Assistant Coach Tina Langley. Langley will be stepping down from her current position as Associate Head Coach at Maryland to join the Rice women’s team next season. The new head coach made an official visit to Rice last week to assess the campus and the team and to share her vision with the community.