Rice 3-UAB 2 (PDF Box Score)
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Pushed to the brink, the Rice Owls volleyball team battled back from an 0-2 deficit to defeat the UAB Blazers in five sets (21-25, 22-25, 25-17, 25-17, 15-12) Sunday afternoon for the team’s sixth consecutive win overall.
Rice (16-5, 5-1) improved to 6-1 on the season in five set matches, which includes three five-set wins in their last four matches. The Owls rallied from an 0-2 deficit to win for the first time since a 3-2 win over LSU on Aug. 29, 2015.
“We found a way today in a tough situation,” Rice head coach Genny Volpe said. “Being down 0-2 and finding a way to win doesn’t happen often. We had some great individual performances but Portia Okafor really stepped up today. Stephanie Mendivil did a nice job coming in as well. Overall a productive road trip, but we will keep working on areas we need to improve.”
Okafor led the Owls in both kills (17) and blocks (9), all while hitting a team-high .567 (17-of-30). She was one of four Owls with double-figure kills, joining Nicole Lennon (15), Grace Morgan (12) and Mendivil (12).
Senior setter Madison McDaniel achieved her sixth double-double of the season with 53 assists and 20 digs while Lennon notched her team-leading 11th double-double of the year, adding 17 digs to her 17 kills. Sophomore libero Lee Ann Cunningham led all Owls with 21 digs.
In set one, the Owls raced out to a 12-5 lead but UAB answered in a big way, using an 11-0 run to grab control of the game and eventually win 25-21. The two teams played a tightly contested set two, but the Blazers used a late 4-0 run to defeat the Owls 25-22 and take the 2-0 match lead.
Rice came out on fire in set three by hitting .355 and broke open a 14-14 tie with a 7-0 run. Lennon recorded three kills during the streak and the Owls forced a fourth set with a 25-17 victory. The Owls defense shined in set four, holding the Blazers to a .023 hitting percentage and Rice led from start to finish in another 25-17 win.
UAB scored the first three points in the deciding fifth set, but like for much of the day Rice had an answer of their own. The Owls reeled off four unanswered points thanks to three blocks from Okafor and Rice never trailed again. Okafor had four kills in set five to help keep the Owls in second place in the Conference USA standings.
Rice will look for their seventh straight win next Friday when they host the UTSA Roadrunners at 6 p.m. from Tudor Fieldhouse.