By: Kenny Bybee (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Rice 3-UTEP 2 (PDF Box Score)
HOUSTON - The Rice Owls volleyball team rallied from a 2-1 deficit to defeat the UTEP Miners in five sets (25-15, 22-25, 22-25, 25-11, 15-11) Friday evening in the Conference USA opener at Tudor Fieldhouse.
Rice (8-7, 1-0) won their fourth consecutive match behind the offensive prowess of senior right side hitter Chelsey Harris, who tied a career-high with 25 kills on 41 attacks for a sensational .488 hitting percentage.
In addition, junior setter Madison McDaniel picked up her C-USA leading 10th double-double of the season with 55 assists and 12 digs. Junior middle blocker Portia Okafor added an additional 10 kills as did senior outside hitter Leah Mikesky, who chipped in 17 digs for a double-double.
Defensively the Owls totaled 79 digs, the second-most this season as a team, 22 of which came from freshman libero Lee Ann Cunningham. The Owls also collected double-figure blocks for the ninth time this season, totaling 12.0 team blocks. Rice limited UTEP (2-11, 0-1) to an opponent's season-low .130 hitting percentage.
"This was a tough match," Rice head coach Genny Volpe said. "UTEP came to play and wouldn't give in. They made us earn a lot of points and stressed our attackers. I thought they made key adjustments throughout the match. This was a really tough test and at the end of the day we found a way to win. We won't take that for granted. This C-USA season will be a battle and we will have to be more consistent from set to set."
Rice had no issues in the opening set of Friday's match, winning 25-15 behind five kills from Harris and three kills apiece from McDaniel and Okafor. However, in set two Rice hit just .116 as a team and had nine attack errors, allowing UTEP to even the match with a 25-22 setback.
UTEP kept the pressure on out of the break, and never relinquished a close lead en route to another 25-22 victory. From that moment on though the Owls flipped a switch, and held the Miners to a -.033 hitting percentage in the fourth game to even the match with a 25-11 win.
In the critical fifth set the Owls outscored UTEP 8-3 to break a 7-7 tie with three of those points coming from the left hand of Harris.
The Owls will close out their nine match homestand on Sunday when they host Louisiana Tech at 1 p.m. from Tudor Fieldhouse.