HOUSTON - An incredible journey through the C-USA Championship came to a close Sunday afternoon for the Rice Owls in a grueling five-set loss (22-25, 20-25, 25-19, 25-19, 7-15) to the No. 20 WKU Lady Toppers.
Rice (20-12, 10-4), who was the lowest-seeded team to ever advance to the C-USA Championship title game, battled from a 2-0 deficit to force a fifth and deciding set which WKU won 15-7.
"I'm an extremely proud coach today," Rice head coach Genny Volpe said. "This team came out really strong and then got battle-tested by an amazing Western Kentucky team. We could have taken the easy route and caved but they didn't. They came out of the locker room with a new sense of purpose and had the attitude of this not being their last game. They left it all out on the floor, every single one of them. Every player on the bench was ready to go and everyone on the court was giving it their all. The way this team evolved this year has made me extremely proud."
Senior right side hitter Chelsey Harris led the Owls with 20 kills (.419) while sophomore middle blocker McKay Kyle added an additional 14 kills (.357), both earning spots on the C-USA All-Tournament Team.
Junior set Madison McDaniel achieved her C-USA leading 21st double-double of the year in the loss, accumulating 49 assists and 22 digs while Shelby Livingstone recorded her second double-double (11 kills-11 digs) in as many days. Freshman middle blocker Grace Morgan had yet another standout C-USA Championship performance in place of the injured Portia Okafor, contributing nine kills and four blocks.
WKU (32-2, 14-0) won the C-USA Championship for a third consecutive season and was led by middle blocker Rachel Anderson (31 kills, .580) and outside hitter Alyssa Cavanaugh (24 kills, .512). The Lady Toppers out hit the Owls .341-.304 and had an edge in total digs (81-70).
Rice jumped out to a 20-15 in the opening frame before WKU roared back late to steal the set 25-22 with a 7-2 run. The Lady Toppers kept that momentum alive in set two and hit .500 for the frame in a 25-20 win in which they never trailed.
Down 2-0 in the match, the Owls came out determined to prolong the match and keep their season alive and were victorious 25-19. Rice hit .500 in the frame, along with a sideout clip of 73 percent. With a raucous Tudor Fieldhouse backing them, the Owls repeated the script in set four with another 25-19 win in which the Rice defense held the Lady Toppers to just a .286 clip.
In the deciding fifth set the Owls struggled to get the offense going while WKU converted on 12-of-25 attacks (.360) en route to the match-clinching 15-7 victory.
Sunday marked the final chapter for six Rice seniors: Andi Bawcum, Chelsey Harris, Maddi Holman, Leah Mikesky, Meghan Patterson and Miranda Rogers.