In the battle for first place in-conference on Friday, Oct. 26, the Rice Owls’ volleyball team steamed UTSA in a three-set win. On Sunday, Oct. 28, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers gained a mid-set win over the UTSA Roadrunners volleyball team. These games marked the ‘Runners second and third conference losses of the year at home in the Convocational Center. The Rice sets were played in front of approximately 1,109 people — the seventh largest crowd in program history. These losses put the ‘Runners three full games behind the Owls for the league title.
Overall, senior setter Amanda Gonzalez had 14 digs and 25 assists, freshman Hannah Lopez added six kills, another six by sophomore Brianna McCulloch and finally seven kills from junior Kara Teal.
On Friday’s game, the Owls came out with intensity, hindering the ‘Runners offensive play. Rice opened the set stronger than the ‘Runners, pulling ahead 4-2. The Owls took the next five points as well, leading 8-3. Lopez and McCulloch added three kills, cutting the lead to 10-5. Kenedi Rutherford’s kill in the middle of the net brought the ‘Runners into double digits, finishing the set with a loss of 25-13.
After the Owls quickly gained the win over the first set, the ‘Runners held their ground in the second set, tying 25-25 before the Owls scored another two points.
The Owls shot down the first three points of the set before UTSA cut to the lead 4-3. UTSA took the advantage over the Owls’ attacking errors, which sent the crowd and players to their toes. The ‘Runners stood their ground, jumping to the lead at 14-13 and forcing the Owls into a panicked timeout. The Owls scored the following three points, forcing tension to rise for the ‘Runners as they called their first timeout, behind 17-13. Ruthford and Teal added points for the ‘Runners until the Owls took the tiebreaker and won the set 27-25.
UTSA came out in the third set ahead 4-3 with kills by Kirby Smith. The sets then began to tie at six, seven and eight before the Owls took the lead. UTSA cut the lead again at 19-16 but lost the final set 25-21.
On Sunday, the Runners came out strong against Western Kentucky University, leading 7-4. Knocking up points with kills by McCullough, Teal and Froeschl, the ‘Runners pushed their lead further ahead of Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers furthered the lead 18-14, sending the ‘Runners into a panic. As the score jumped to 22-17, McCullough added three kills, yet the Hilltoppers gained the three points they needed to secure the win with 25-19.
The following set opened with the ‘Runners steaming ahead 4-2. The Hilltoppers scored a 5-0 run, pushing ahead of the ‘Runners. This forced UTSA to call two back-to-back timeouts, with the Hilltoppers securing another win.
The third set provided the ‘Runners with vigor to conquer the Hilltoppers. UTSA came out with the first point before the Hilltoppers used a 5-1 run to push ahead of the ‘Runners. The Hilltoppers trailed the lead over the ‘Runners before Smith eventually evened the score at 14 with her seventh kill. UTSA secured their first lead at 18-16, forcing the Hilltoppers into a timeout. A kill by Teal eventually finished the set win for the ‘Runners at 25-22.
The fourth set teetered between the ‘Runners and the Hilltoppers. The ‘Runners kept the score a few points behind the Hilltoppers with kills by McCulloch and Lopez followed with blocks by Froeschl and Smith. The set tied at 20, 21, 22 and 23 before the Hilltoppers won the fourth set 25-23.
The UTSA volleyball team will play away again on Friday, Nov. 2, against Louisana Tech University at 7 p.m., and again on Sunday, Nov. 4, against Middle Tennessee at 12 p.m.