HOUSTON - Just three days after a postponement due to a team-wide illness, the Rice Owls volleyball squad bounced back with a 3-0 triumph over the FIU Panthers in the Conference USA opener Friday evening at Tudor Fieldhouse.
"It was definitely a challenging week," Rice head coach Genny Volpe said. "The team was ill all week. But they came out today and looked much better than I expected. It was nice to see how mentally focused they were. We had a strong game plan of wanting to attack FIU with our serving and put up a strong block. I was very pleased with how disciplined they played."
Rice (11-4, 1-0) limited the Panthers (8-5, 2-1) to just a .037 team hitting percentage for the match, a season-low by an Owls' opponent. Offensively Rice was led by junior outside hitter Leah Mikesky, who recorded a match-high 13 kills (.346), followed by Chelsey Harris' nine kills.
Rice freshman setter Julianna Dole notched her second double-double of the season with 33 assists and 14 digs while leading the Owls to a .250 team hitting percentage.
Defensively the Owls posted 12.0 team blocks, 10 (4 solo) of which came from sophomore middle blocker Portia Okafor. Senior libero Kimberly Vaio led Rice in digs with 17 while chipping in five assists.
The Owls stormed out of the gates in the opening set by jumping out to a 12-1 advantage over the Panthers en route to a 25-9 victory, the largest margin by Rice all season. Rice held FIU to a -.188 hitting percentage in the set while hitting .409 themselves. In set two the Owls kept up the defensive pressure by holding FIU to just a .061 team hitting percentage and never trailed after taking a 4-3 lead.
In the third and final frame FIU battled Rice to five ties, most of which came late in the set. However, tied at 24-24, Stephanie Mendivil gave the Owls the lead for good with a kill and a block by Okafor ended the match on the following serve.
Rice returns to action this Sunday when they host the Florida Atlantic Owls at 1 p.m. For ticket information be sure to visit RiceOwls.com.