It’s hard to accomplish all Rice Volleyball did in 2019 without a core group of experienced players. The Owls will have to replace several key seniors.
Rice volleyball had a delicate mix of experienced veterans and up-and-coming underclassmen on their 2019 team. They’re fortunate to only have to replace a few key pieces on a team poised to reload and seek another NCAA berth.
The outgoing seniors, although few in number, played huge roles in the Owls’ success on the court. Head coach Genny Volpe admitted it won’t be a seamless transition. “It’s hard [to replace those seniors],” quickly transitioning to those waiting in the wings. “We’ve got some really talented players coming in and we have some players that are currently on the team that maybe had smaller roles that are looking to fulfill bigger roles.”
Volpe and her staff had started to identify those players this spring before the coronavirus shutdown put an indefinite pause on their spring activities. There will be plenty of time to look forward to that future. Now is the time for an assessment of just what those reinforcements will be supplanting.
The most notable departing senior is setter Adria Martinez. She had more than half of the Owls’ assists on the season, sharing the setting duties with sophomore Carly Graham. Martinez was one of three players to never miss a set all season. The other two, senior Lee Ann Cunningham and graduate Tabitha Brown, have also played their final games at Rice.
Cunningham served as the team’s libero, leading the team in digs. Brown was an impactful outside hitter. That trio of Martinez, Cunningham and Brown combined for 1068 digs over the course of the season. Fortunately seven-time Conference USA Player of the Week Nicole Lennon will return in 2020, but that’s still plenty of defensive turnover.
Outside hitters Grace Morgan and Tori Woogk round out the outgoing collection of Owls. Both were contributors on the attack, racking up 193 and 116 kills respectively. Morgan’s 265 points were third-most on the team.
Those seniors played crucial roles in pushing Rice volleyball to its historic season, but they didn’t get the Owls’ there on their own. Rice has plenty of talent on the roster. The new faces just need their moment in the spotlight. That will come soon enough.