HOUSTON - Despite a valiant comeback attempt the Rice Owls volleyball team was unable to stave off the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders Sunday afternoon, falling in five sets (25-20, 20-25, 20-25, 29-27, 17-19) for their first home defeat of the year.
Rice (13-6, 3-2) played their third consecutive five-set match and sixth overall this season, falling to 4-2 in such instances. The Owls had four players notch double-doubles, including a 20-kill (40 attacks), 14-dig performance from junior outside hitter Leah Mikesky, taking over the team lead with 10 double-doubles.
Senior outside hitter Noelle Whitlock established a career-high with 20 kills while also pitching in 14 digs for her fifth double-double of the year. Freshman setter Julianna Dole (55 assists-13 digs) and senior libero Kimberly Vaio (17 digs-11 assists) also recorded double-doubles.
Middle Tennessee (5-16, 3-4) got monster offensive performances from Chelsea Ross (30 kills-81 attacks) and Miri Shade (19 kills-53 attacks).
The Blue Raiders outhit the Owls .267-.212 and had nine less attack errors (24-33). Both teams registered a staggering 70 digs in a match that saw 39 ties and 12 lead changes.
"Well that was definitely a heartbreaker for sure," Rice head coach Genny Volpe said. "After putting ourselves in a pretty tough situation the team battled hard through some adversity but in the end it wasn't enough. Middle Tennessee played great today and we allowed them to get on too many runs of points. Both of their outside hitters caused us problems all afternoon. There's no question about this team's desire to win and the heart that we have. We just need to settle down at times and avoid giving the opponent as many points as we did today."
Rice got a balanced offensive attack in the opening and hit .282 as a team en route to a 25-20 victory. Whitlock led all players with six kills in the frame while Dole dished out 13 assists. The Owls never trailed after capturing a 12-11 lead.
The momentum shifted in the second set with the Blue Raiders hitting .361 as a team and possessing a sideout percentage of 71.0. Ross and Shade each collected seven kills apiece for Middle Tennessee in frame in an eventual 25-20 victory. Ross continued her dominance in the third set with 10 more kills, leading to another 25-20 Middle Tennessee win.
Needing to force a fifth set the Owls fought extremely hard in the fourth frame, staving off three match points before rallying to take the final two points on a kill from Whitlock and game-winning (29-27) ace from Meghan Patterson.
In the final set the Blue Raiders eventually broke a 17-17 tie with a kill and a bad set from the Owls to secure the victory.
The Owls will look to bounce back this Thursday, Oct. 15 when they host UTSA at 4 p.m. at Tudor Fieldhouse. The match is a makeup of the previously postponed game that was scheduled for Sept. 22.