NEW HAVEN, Conn. - The Rice Owls volleyball team completed a doubleheader sweep and were named the Yale Invitational Co-Champions after rallying from a 2-1 deficit to defeat host Yale in five dramatic sets (25-16, 28-30, 29-31, 25-22, 15-12) Saturday evening.
"That was one of the closest matches that we have played and very reminiscent of the conference tournament championship last year," Rice head coach Genny Volpe said. "Yale did not make many mistakes at all and forced us to make plays. We gave up a lot of points, which is something we need to continue to work on, but the guts this team has is amazing and I am so proud of our toughness and fight."
In total, the two teams played to 61 ties and had 29 lead changes. Rice outhit the Bulldogs, who advanced to the NCAA Tournament last season, .286-.191 and had a better sideout rate (60-55%). Rice set a season-high with 20.0 team blocks and held Yale under .200 in three of five sets.
Rice received a career-performance from junior right side hitter Chelsey Harris, who set a lifetime-best with 25 kills while hitting a spectacular .444 (25-of-45). The Houston, Texas native was named the Yale Invitational Co-MVP along with UCSB's Ali Barbeau. Joining Harris on the all-tournament team was senior outside hitter Noelle Whitlock and sophomore setter Madison McDaniel.
Whitlock tallied seven kills and 11 digs in the win over Yale while McDaniel posted a monster double-double with 62 assists and 20 digs. Junior outside hitter Leah Mikesky duplicated her strong morning performance with a double-double as well, finishing with 16 kills and 14 digs. Freshman middle blocker McKay Kyle continued her stellar start to the season with 13 kills while hitting .524 (13-of-21) and chipping in seven blocks. Sophomore middle blocker Portia Okafor also recorded the first double-double of her career with 11 kills and 11 blocks, becoming the first Owl since Jillian Humphrey in 2013 to post 10 or more blocks.
After the two teams split the first two sets, it was Yale that outlasted Rice in a classic 31-29 victory that saw a staggering 23 ties and 10 lead changes. Rice refused to go away quietly after the tough defeat, breaking away from a 20-20 tie with the Bulldogs by outscoring Yale 5-2 the rest of the set.
In the fifth and decisive set the Owls took advantage of a pair of service errors and Kyle struck for two kills of her own to setup Whitlock's match-winning kill. The Owls improved to 2-0 in five-set matches after going 1-6 in the same situation in 2014.
The Owls will now get a five-day break before returning to action next weekend when they host the Rice Adidas Invitational, Sept. 11-12. During that two-day stretch the Owls will host Louisiana-Lafayette (Friday-6 p.m.), Sam Houston State (Saturday-10:30 a.m.) and No. 21 Colorado (Saturday-6 p.m.).