Rice volleyball gave Texas a run but couldn’t upend the ‘Horns, falling in the second round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
Rice volleyball was dealt a crushing blow last season when they were forced to bow out of the NCAA Tournament without playing a match because of COVID-19. Not only did the team never show any signs of lingering frustration, they bounced back and compiled one of the most impressive runs in program history.
The Owls blazed through Conference USA, notching a perfect 12-0 record before falling to Western Kentucky in the conference championship. Along the way they lost just six times, only once to an unranked team. That was more than enough to send them back to the NCAA Tournament once more, but this time they were able to compete, and compete they did.
Rice blanked San Diego 3-0, setting up a tantalizing Lone Star bout between Rice and Texas. The last time these two teams squared off in Austin, Rice won 3-2. This time, it was the Longhorns that came out on top, winning 3-0 in a match head coach Genny Volpe said “the score [wasn’t] very indicative of how competitive it was.”
Rice netted the first set up 15-15 before Texas went on a run to put things out of reach. Then the Longhorns edged the Owls 25-23 in the second stanza. The third set was tied up 17-17 before Texas closed it all out with another run. Had there been a couple of breaks the other way, Rice might have been able to sneak another frame, but this time it just wasn’t in the cards.
“I’m extremely proud of how we played,” Volpe said.”All we ask as coaches is that they’re invested and they feel freed to compete and enjoy the competition because so much hard work goes into what they do. This team is truly invested, and I think you can tell. I think you can see it when we play. I think they inspire others as they inspire me.”
Rice hit .340 against Texas, 53 points better than their season average of .287 and 178 points better than the .162 hitting percentage the Longhorns had allowed to their opponents entering the showdown with the Owls.
Disappointed by the result, Volpe couldn’t help but smile when discussing the team’s effort. “We knew we wanted to embrace the opportunity and play Rice volleyball and we really feel like we can compete at the highest level when we play our game. And so my hope was just that this team was able to relax and trust the process that we’ve gone through and enjoy the moment. We did not get the result we wanted but I feel like they left everything on the floor and showed what a quality team we are.”
— Rice Volleyball (@RiceVolleyball) December 5, 2021
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