Rice 3-Arkansas St. 2 (PDF Box Score)
HOUSTON – A shorthanded Rice Owls volleyball squad outlasted the Arkansas State Red Wolves in five intense sets Friday evening at Tudor Fieldhouse in a 3-2 victory (22-25, 25-18, 25-18, 19-25, 15-11) on the opening day of the Rice Adidas Invitational II.
The Owls (8-4) outscored the Red Wolves (6-6) 15-11 in the fifth and deciding set to improve to 2-0 this season in five-set matches.
Rice freshman outside hitter Nicole Lennon put up a monster double-double, her team-leading fifth of the season, with a match-high 20 kills to go along with 17 digs. In addition, Lennon’s 20-kill performance was already her third such achievement of the season.
Sophomore setter Adria Martinez also shined in her first collegiate start, dishing out 52 assists and 11 digs for her first career double-double. Five Owls posted 10 or more digs in a 74-dig performance, led by 18 from junior Julianna Dole. Rice posted 12.0 team blocks, nine of which came from sophomore middle blocker Grace Morgan, who also posted 12 kills while hitting .310.
The Owls also received a huge lift off the bench from freshman outside hitter Kassidy Muse, who registered a season-high in kills (9) while hitting a staggering .444 and also posted a season-high four blocks.
“Kassidy has been showing every time we put her out there that she’s prepared,” Volpe said. “She pays attention to the scouting reports and she’s been extremely aggressive when she gets her chance. That huge solo block in the fourth set really put a fire under our team. I’m just so proud of her. You could just sense the team effort tonight. This was also probably the strongest performance from our defensive specialists. We ask a lot of them and they were fantastic tonight.”
All in all, it was a performance that had Rice head coach Genny Volpe beaming afterwards.
“Before the match in the locker room we talked about what it takes to be a good teammate and a strong team and I think we came out and did a lot of the things we discussed,” Rice head coach Genny Volpe said. “Tonight was a total team effort. We had people coming in off the bench and executing. An example was Portia Okafor sitting for a long stretch and then coming back in during the fifth set and executed four kills. That’s big time. I’m proud of Adria Martinez; she was about as composed as I’ve seen anyone in their first college start as a setter. She really connected well with her teammates and peppered the ball around efficiently.”
After dropping the opening set 25-22, the Owls responded with 25-18 victories in both set two and three, respectively. However, the Red Wolves forced the fifth set with a 25-19 in game four. The Owls proved to be up for the challenge though and never trailed in the frame. Okafor scored three of the Owls first five points and Morgan finished the job with an additional four kills, including the match-clincher at 15-11.
The Owls will be in search of their third consecutive victory on Saturday when they host Georgetown at 10 a.m. before facing Stephen F. Austin at 6 p.m. from Tudor Fieldhouse.