HOUSTON - The Rice Owls volleyball team erased a 2-1 match deficit to defeat the North Texas Mean Green in five sets (24-26, 25-22, 19-25, 25-17, 15-10) Wednesday evening on Dig Pink night at Tudor Fieldhouse.
Rice (15-7, 5-3) played their fifth five-set match in their last six contests and improved to 5-3 in such instances this season. The Owls snapped a two-game home losing streak in the process and improved to 7-2 at Tudor Fieldhouse this season, all while avenging a 3-2 loss to North Texas in early October in Denton.
The Owls held the Mean Green (14-10, 6-3) to a .199 hitting percentage and outdug North Texas 89-82, the second-most digs posted by Rice this season.
Junior outside hitter Leah Mikesky led all Owls with 22 kills on 64 attacks, her fourth 20-plus kill effort of the season. The Schulenburg, Texas native also collected 13 digs for her team-leading 12th double-double of the year. Sophomore Madison McDaniel earned her 11th double-double of the season with 55 assists and 13 digs and senior outside hitter Noelle Whitlock joined the double-double (12 kills, 13 digs) party with her seventh of the year. Senior libero Kimberly Vaio led all players with a career-high 25 digs and junior right side hitter Chelsey Harris came off the bench to spark the Owls' offense with 11 kills on 14 attacks (.643).
"This was a terrific win for us against a really good North Texas team," Rice head coach Genny Volpe said. "We still sometimes hesitate too much and I'm trying to get the entire team to recognize that they have to stop waiting for someone else to make a play and just react faster without thinking, even if it turns out to be a mistake. We hesitated a couple of times in the first two sets and I just told them to keep fighting. I knew if we could get it to a fifth set this that our team wasn't going to drop another five-set match at home. We fought extremely hard and luckily for us North Texas made a few errors down the stretch."
The Mean Green were led offensively by one of the nation's top talents in outside hitter Carnae Dillard, who recorded a match-high 28 kills on a staggering 89 attacks but hit just .157 for the match. Volpe credited a persistent Rice block at the net and a scrappy backline against C-USA's leading hitter.
"The fact that she (Dillard) had to take 90 swings, she had to work really hard," Volpe said. "Our mindset was we knew she can and was going to score but we didn't want to make it easy for her. We improved on that during set three and that's when the momentum changed."
After splitting the first two sets, North Texas came out of intermission and had their best offensive frame of the night by hitting .311 as a team en route to a 25-19 victory. Trailing 2-1, Rice answered the call by responding with their most efficient offensive frame of the night, hitting a match-high .433 and posted a 76 percent sideout rate. Harris provided a big boost for the Owls with six kills on six attacks and the Rice defense held the Mean Green to just a .108 hitting percentage in a 25-17 victory.
That momentum carried over into the fifth and final set where Rice jumped out to a 12-2 lead before eventually winning 15-10.
Rice hits the road for a pair of matches this weekend, beginning Friday at Middle Tennessee (7 p.m.) followed by a Sunday afternoon game at Louisiana Tech (1 p.m.).