HOUSTON - Despite a late scare, the Rice Owls volleyball squad picked up their fourth consecutive victory and stayed undefeated at home with a five-set (27-25, 25-16, 21-25, 22-25, 15-11) win over Sam Houston State Saturday morning at the Rice Adidas Invitational.
Junior outside hitter Leah Mikesky achieved her sixth double-double of the year with a team-high 19 kills and 19 digs (career-high) while sophomore Madison McDaniel continued her string of double-doubles with her seventh consecutive (56 assists, 19 digs) such feat.
Rice sophomore middle blocker Portia Okafor led all players with nine blocks (3 solo) while senior libero Kimberly Vaio also notched double-digit digs with 12. The Owls got a big boost from junior middle blocker Miranda Rogers, establishing career-highs in kills (9) and blocks (4).
"Well, we really let up after set two which gave Sam Houston a window and they capitalized," Rice head coach Genny Volpe said. "They're a good team that fights to the end, luckily we came up on the winning end. But we will learn from this match, no doubt. We had some key performances from Miranda Rogers and Leah Mikesky. And Madison McDaniel was very solid defensively, which was critical."
The Bearkats (4-5) actually outgained the Owls in kills (72-65) and assists (66-63) but Rice outhit SHSU .269-.208 and had 11 less attack errors (30-19). Sam Houston had three players register double-figure kills, including a match-high 22 from sophomore outside hitter Jordyn Vaughn. Junior setter Michelle Griffith led all players with 60 assists.
The opening set established the tone for the match with the two teams playing to 14 ties and four lead changes. Rice scored the final two points on kills from Noelle Whitlock and Okafor to secure a 27-25 victory. The Owls hit a match-low .163 for the set but still found a way to go up 1-0 thanks to eight attack errors by the Bearkats, as well as four service errors.
Rice took what looked to be a demanding 2-0 match lead with a 25-16 victory in the second set, hitting a day's best .387 while limiting Sam Houston to a .100 clip. However, out of intermission it was the Bearkats that found a spark and rallied to take the third set from the Owls, 25-21. In the fourth set the Bearkats outscored Rice 9-7 down the stretch to force a fifth and deciding set with a 25-22 victory.
In the critical fifth set the Owls took a 3-2 lead and never trailed again, hitting .333 as a team en route to a 15-11 match-sealing victory. With the victory the Owls stayed undefeated in five-set matches, improving to 3-0.
The Owls return to the court later this evening when they host No. 23 Colorado at 7 p.m. at Tudor Fieldhouse in the final match of the Rice Adidas Invitational.