Nov. 22, 2009
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Houston - The Owls are dancin' once again. Rice's plucky volleyball squad knocked-off two-seeded Tulsa 3-1 in the Conference USA Championship match in Rice's Tudor Fieldhouse. The victory, Rice's first-ever conference volleyball title, earns it an automatic bid to next month's NCAA Championship.
It is Rice's first time to make back-to-back appearances in the NCAA tournament, after having earned at-large bids last season and in 2004.
The Owls will learn their NCAA first round opponent on Sunday, November 29 - at 2 p.m. (Central) during the announcement of the selections on ESPNNews.
NCAA Volleyball Championship Information
Set scores were 25-23, 25-23, 25-27, and 25-23. Rice is now 22-8, while Tulsa falls to 26-7. The Owls earned a trip to the championship by defeating the number one seeded Southern Miss 3-1 in Saturday's semi-final.
Rice was able to gain a measure of revenge against Tulsa, as the Golden Hurricane swept the two-match season series 3-0 in Houston and 3-1 in Tulsa, Okla. As a matter of fact, Rice is now on an eight-match winning streak, with its last loss coming at Tulsa on Oct. 25.
"The championship is surreal, honestly," said Rice head Genny Volpe. "We're pretty fired-up. I am just so proud that the team really peaked at the right time. With this being the last season that Conference USA is going to have a tournament championship, and to go out and win it while hosting in front of our home crowd, which was amazing by the way, was a ton of fun."
Outside hitter Ashleigh McCord led three Rice attackers in double-digit kills with a team season-high 24 kills. Natalie Bogan added 12 kills, while Jennifer McClean had another double-double, her team-leading 13th of the year, with 11 kills and 17 digs.
Rice setter Meredith Schamun, the C-USA Championship MVP, dished out a match-high 49 assists (12.25 assist per set average) and had 13 digs for her 12th double-double on the season. Owl libéro Tracey Lam collected 19 digs.
It was gusty team effort by the Rice Owls.
"Everyone played hard," commentd Volpe. "In key situations, Jenn (McClean), Tracey (Lam) and Meredith (Schamun) came through. Ashleigh (McCord) was just fearless. Tracey made some big saves in that comeback that were just crazy-ups. She showed why she was the (C-USA) Libero of the Year. Channing (Grigsby) was right there too when her teammates needed her.
Grigsby, a senior, contributed 8 digs on the day from her back row position.
Championship MVP Meredith Schamun had this to say about the intestinal fortitude of the Rice volleyball team, "It just shows that we have a ton of heart. We fight like nothing else in the world. We've heard from other coaches and our own coaches that we are a fighting team, and it just goes to show that when you put your mind to something this team definitely wants to get out there and fight. And we don't give up and we don't give in, and that's something that we definitely pride ourselves on."
TU was led by freshman Tyler Henderson's match-high 26 kills and .365 attack percentage. Jennifer Eichler added 16 kills and 10 digs. Jessica Adams' had a match-high 28 digs.
The Owls pounded 61 kills for a .241 attack percentage, and held Tulsa, the league-leader in team hitting percentage, to a .210 attack percentage. Rice had 13 team blocks, 77 digs, and four service aces.
The Golden Hurricane had 9 blocks and 69 digs with one service ace.
"It was a tough match for us," said Tulsa head coach Ed Allen. "Rice played outstanding defense and as strong as we've seen them in any of the three matches this year. We hurt ourselves tremendously out of serve-receive and our ability to pass the ball so that our middles and other hitters could be included in the offense. We compounded the problem by not locating the ball to those hitters and giving them an opportunity to use the court. Our hats are off to Rice for playing an extremely competitive match and as strong defensively as I've seen them play."
Rice made a late charge to capture set one coming from behind (18-14) and outscoring TU 11 to 5 for a 25-23 win. Leading that charge was Ashleigh McCord with a set-high 7 kills and Natalie Bogan added 5 kills as Rice hit .306 with 17 kills. Tulsa was equally effective with a .303 attack percentage with 14 kills. Jennifer Eichler led TU with 5 kills.
Rice was even behind 15 to 9 before going on a 3-0 run punctuated by a McCord kill. Back-to-back kills by McCord and Bogan gave Rice its first lead at 21-20.
Set two saw TU take an 8-7 lead that increased to 19-9. The Owls then scored 3 unanswered to cut it to 19-12. With the Golden Hurricane ahead 22-14, the Owls somehow found their mojo and outscored Tulsa 11 to 1 for a 2-0 match lead.
In that run, the Owls used great hustle and defense and capitalized on their offensive opportunities despite hitting only .080. Rice managed 11 kills with five of them coming from McCord. McClean also had 4 kills and 5 digs. Rice also posted 5 team blocks.
Volpe was even amazed that Rice was able to come from behind 19-9 to steal the second set.
"We tried to play it point-for-point, and maybe try and get the momentum going into the third game," said Volpe. "Volleyball is a game of momentum, and I said after game two, 'isn't volleyball funny?' I have never witnessed a comeback like that for as long as I've been in the game."
Tulsa hit .036 in the second set with 13 kills and was led by freshman Tyler Henderson's set-high 6 kills.
The two teams traded points in set three with the largest lead no more than two for either squad. The Owls were up 24-23 on a kill by McClean and were ahead 25-24 on a tip kill by Bogan, but TU battled back to score the next three points to secure the set three win.
McCord had 5 kills to lead Rice, while Bogan and McClean each had 4 kills. Rice .250 as a team with 15 kills.
Tulsa hit .268 with 17 kills and was led by Henderson's 8 kills and .438 hitting percentage.
Set four was nearly a repeat of the third set with each squad battling and trading points. A block by Rice's Jessie Boulavsky and Nancy Cole gave them an 18-14 edge, but consecutive kills by the athletic Henderson brought TU to within one at 19-18.
Tulsa was even up 23-22 when McCord crunched consecutive kills to give the Owls the lead at 24-23. A kill at the net by Owl freshman middle blocker, Nancy Cole gave Rice its 25th point to finish off Tulsa and propel Rice into the Big Dance.
Rice hit an astounding .364 in the final set with 18 kills (2 errors) and 44 attempts. McCord led Rice with 7 kills
Tulsa had 19 kills and a .298 hitting percentage. Henderson smoked 9 kills in the fourth set to lead all hitters.
Rice's 22 season victories mark the first time that the Owls' volleyball team has posted back-to-back 20+ wins in a season since Debbie Sokol's teams did it in 1986 (22-14) and 1987 (20-11).
"We thought we could be an NCAA Tournament team," stated Volpe. "I think there should be at least two other conference teams in the NCAA Tournament as well. Wherever we go or no who matter we face, we're going to represent the conference the best that we can."
2009 C-USA All-Tournament Team
Visnja Djurdjevic, Tulane
Tyler Henderson, Tulsa
Jennifer Eichler, Tulsa
Tracey Lam, Rice
Jennifer McClean, Rice
Meredith Schamun, Rice (MVP)
2009 CONFERENCE USA CHAMPIONSHIP
Tudor Fieldhouse (host Rice)
Friday, Nov. 20
Match 1 - (3) Tulane 3, (6) SMU 1
Match 2 - (2) Tulsa 3, (7) UAB 1
Match 3 - (4) Rice 3, (5) Marshall 0
Match 4 - (1) Southern Miss 3, (8) Houston 1
Saturday, Nov. 21
Match 5 - (2) Tulsa 3, (3) Tulane 0
Match 6 - (4) Rice 3, (1) Southern Miss 1
Sunday, Nov. 22
Match 7 - (4) Rice 3, (2) Tulsa 1 (CBS C)