Nov. 22, 2014 Photo Gallery
Rice 3-UTSA 0
HATTIESBURG, Miss. - The third time really was the charm for the Rice Owls volleyball team. For the first time since 2009, the Owls will play in the Conference USA Championship title game after sweeping No. 1 seed and regular season champion UTSA Saturday afternoon.
Rice (23-9) exacted a bit of revenge by defeating the Roadrunners (25-22, 25-18, 26-24) for the first time in three attempts this season. In the process, Rice head coach Genny Volpe recorded the 200th win of her career.
"I'm so proud of this team," Volpe said. "They are ready to go for this championship. They have worked so hard and it's nice to see it pay off. Our focus is there and we are executing at a high level. We're looking to rest up and prepare for tomorrow. Western Kentucky will be a strong opponent and they've shown they can compete against the best in the country."
The Owls will now face WKU in the title game on Sunday, which will air nationally on Fox Sports Network at 12:30 p.m. (CT). Rice faced the Hilltoppers just once this season and lost in heartbreaking fashion in five sets after falling behind 2-0.
Sophomore outside hitters Chelsey Harris
and Leah Mikesky
combined for 27 of the Owls' 40 kills and Rice limited UTSA (20-9) to a hitting percentage of just .190 in the victory. Sophomore setter Sara Blasier
had 29 assists in three sets and said the Owls were more than ready to face the Roadrunners a third time.
"We were extremely well-prepared for this match," Blasier said. "We scouted every rotation that they were in, who their hot hitters are, and I think we were so focused that we were very determined to get every single point and we played 100 percent hard on every point."
The Owls separated from UTSA midway through the first set and never looked back, taking the first game 25-22 behind a combined 10 kills from Harris and Mikesky. The Rice defense continued the momentum through the second set as it held the potent UTSA offense to a -.026 hitting percentage.
Out of the break and looking to seal the deal, Rice took an early lead. UTSA answered, narrowing the score to one point late in the third frame. However, Rice regained its footing to complete the sweep of the Roadrunners and clinch a berth in the C-USA Championship match.
A win on Sunday would give the Owls an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament, where Rice has made three appearances with the last coming in 2009.