The UTSA volleyball team (3-9, 1-5 Conference USA) continued their conference slate in the Convocation Center against the Rice Owls (9-3, 8-0 Conference USA) Feb. 28 and Mar. 1. The Roadrunners dropped both matches to the Owls, continuing their conference losing streak. The ‘Runners were able to push the first match to five sets, losing by five in the final decision. The Owls answered with a quick sweep in the second match of the weekend, closing the game in three sets.
The ‘Runners claimed an early lead in the first match, 6-2, after forcing back-to-back Owls hitting errors. Maintaining the lead for a majority of the first set, junior outside hitter Kirby Smith led the front row with three kills to start the contest, recording a double-double for the matchup with 12 kills and 20 digs. Following an uncontested 7-0 scoring run, 20-10, the Owls forced consecutive hitting errors from the ‘Runners to reclaim the set 28-26.
Continuing the lead, the Owls led the second set from the first serve. Using a scoring run to propel them forward, the Owls remained ahead while keeping the ‘Runners at bay, 13-8. UTSA rallied off of kills from Smith and junior middle blocker Allison Jennings to tie the game 18-18. The Owls retaliated with six kills to close the set 25-21.
Looking for redemption, the ‘Runners fought to take an early lead at 6-5 after forcing an Owls hitting error. Maintaining the lead throughout the duration of the third set, the Owls slowly chipped away at UTSA’s lead but were unable to reach 25 first. Sophomore outside hitter Hunter Coppola followed Smith’s lead, registering 11 kills and five digs for the match. The ‘Runners claimed the third set with a service ace from sophomore setter Courtney Walters, who recorded 48 assists in the match, 27-25.
Feeding off of the momentum, UTSA jumped ahead with an early lead, forcing two back-to-back hitting errors from Rice to start the fourth set. Sophomore outside Bianca Ejesieme tallied 12 kills, three digs and two blocks for the contest. UTSA did not allow the Owls to take the lead throughout the entire set, trudging ahead off the back of Smith and freshman Amanda Ifeanyi. Ifeanyi claimed match point with a kill to close the set 27-25, forcing a fifth tiebreaker set.
Turning the tone for the match, Rice jumped ahead with a 3-0 run to begin the fifth and final set. Not letting the ‘Runners come within two points for the entirety of the set, the Owls capitalized off of attack errors from the UTSA front row. Rice claimed the tiebreaker 15-10, ending the first match 3-2.
The ‘Runners were not given a chance at redemption in the second match as Rice grasped the win in three sets. Taking the first set by 15 points, the Owls went on a 7-0 scoring run to open the second match. Unable to recover from the initial deficit, UTSA would not be in a threatening position to win the set. The Owls ended the first set with a 15-point lead, 25-10.
Keeping with Owls within range, the ‘Runners kept Rice at a single-digit lead. Ejesieme led the offense, registering eight kills for the match. Smith followed closely behind with seven. Ifeanyi finished with five kills. Drawing closer to the lead at the end of the set, the Owls did not let up, finishing with a kill to take the match lead, 25-20.
In the third and final set of the series, the Owls took a 10-4 lead to start the set. Walters registered 18 kills for the match, and junior libero Mia Ybarra led the defense with 12 digs. Closing the set with a 12-point lead, the Owls went uncontested for the match, claiming all three sets.
UTSA will be back in action to continue their conference slate in Boca Raton facing the Louisiana Tech Lady Techsters (0-13, 0- Conference USA) Mar. 7-8. The ‘Runners will then return to the Convocation Center Mar. 14-15 to host the Southern Miss Golden Eagles.