Volleyball wins three games in two days to open season

Photo courtesy of Rice Athletics

By Daniel Schrager 08/30/22 11:19 PM

Rice’s volleyball team didn’t pass up a double header on Friday or an abysmal first set on Saturday, as they started their season with three straight wins this weekend at Louisiana State University’s Tiger Classic. in Baton Rouge. The team opened the tournament with a pair of sweeps before battling it out for a 3-2 win over LSU to close out the weekend. According to head coach Genny Volpe, although their offense was still going strong, the team was strong in all other facets of the game.

“We’re still working on our attacking pace, but I was very happy with our defense and service reception for the most part,” Volpe said.

The Owls’ opener, against the University of Houston, was something of a logistical question mark as the two teams, normally less than four miles apart, traveled more than 250 miles to face off at the Maravich Assembly Center. The first set was tight throughout, as Rice never led by more than five points, but the Owls managed to win it by a score of 25-22. That would be the closest the Cougars have gotten all night to securing a set. Rice won the second set 25-18 behind five kills from fifth-year senior center blocker Anota Adekunle. The Owls repeated the trick in the third set behind five more kills from Adekunle and 15 assists from fifth-year senior Carly Graham to seal the victory – the 350th of Volpe’s career.

The Owls took the court three hours later against Samford University. Whatever fatigue the team might have felt from the quick turnaround certainly did not show up as they took a 10-1 lead and won the first set 25-15. . According to Adekunle, the team had prepared for the double header and managed to avoid its worst effects.

“It wasn’t as tiring as I expected,” Adekunle said. “I felt really good physically after playing our last game on Friday. I think the training we had in practice prepared us for this.

The Bulldogs kept the second set tight, taking a 17-12 lead at one point, but the Owls managed to come back behind a late winning streak from second outside/right side hitter Lola Foord. A dominant third set saw the Owls complete their second sweep of the day.

After winning their first six sets of the weekend, hosts LSU gave Rice a bit of a shock by winning Saturday’s opening set 25-13. According to Adekunle, the Owls were surprised by LSU’s quick start, but once they settled into the game, they were able to pick up the momentum.

“The game of volleyball is often a momentum game,” Adekunle said. “LSU came out with so much fire it just took us a minute to adjust to it. Bad sets happen all the time and unfortunately we were on that side.

The Owls’ deficit didn’t last long, however. Rice won the next two sets by 7 and 9 points respectively to take a 2-1 lead. The Tigers managed to force a fifth set, but three unanswered runs in a 12-12 tie gave the Owls their third victory in three tries. After the comeback win, Volpe said the turnaround was more the result of the team’s composure than any tactical change.

“[We made] not really any adjustments,” Volpe said. “The team started flat and so we stayed true to ourselves and trusted that we were going to get through this, which we did. The team stayed calm and adapted to our service game and pass, which made a big difference.

Over the weekend, junior outside hitter Sahara Maruska led the Owls with 34 kills, while Adekunle was just second with 29. Graham, the team’s lead setter, provided 102 assists while the libero junior Nia McCardell earned Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week honors. for his 46 digs over the three games. According to Maruska, she is playing a more active role both in attack and defense this season.

“Last year my role in the team was to go into the game and get as many kills as possible while I was there,” Maruska said. “This year, I play defense in the back row and I continue to be present in the net in attack.”

Next, the team travels to Eugene, Oregon for a pair of games – a Friday afternoon game against the University of California at Davis and a Saturday night game against No. Oregon. As the season resumes, Maruska said she’s confident the Owls, who received the 30th most votes in the American Volleyball Coaches Association rankings this week, will find their groove.

“I have so much faith in this team,” Maruska said. “I think we have a very solid season ahead of us, knowing that everyone will be firing on all cylinders in every game.”

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