The Rice volleyball team started its season losing five consecutive sets, but still ended the weekend with a 2-1 record.
Rice was swept by No. 3 Texas Friday and found themselves in an 0-2 hole to LSU Saturday at the American Campus Classic in Austin.
When Rice emerged from the locker room, the weekend took a turn from the better. Stephanie Mendivil rattled home two kills, Chelsey Harris added a successful spike and LSU mishandled a shot. Rice was off and running with the 4-0 lead in the third set.
“We made some great changes mentally coming out of the locker room after the second set,” Rice coach Genny Volpe said in a news releases. “I’m most pleased with that. Chelsey and Leah (Mikesky) turned it on and took big swings when it counted. Madison (McDaniel’s) defense was key and Stephanie came in and really helped provide a spark.”
In that third set, Rice recorded 16 kills with just one error. Mendivil and Portia Okafor each recorded four kills alone in the set. The Tigers got within one point at 11-10, but never caught up.
The fourth set, however, started out much better for LSU. The Tigers jumped on top 4-1 and led 12-7 after a bad serve from Okafor.
A Harris kill and McDaniel ace started a 6-1 run that leveled the set. The teams split the next six points. Rice untied the proceedings with another Harris spike. The Owls won the next eight points as well to take the fourth set 25-16.
Last season Rice was 1-6 in five-set matches, including losing its last four. LSU led 5-4 in the fifth set before the Tigers made three straight errors. A Kimberly Vaio ace put Rice ahead 8-5.
LSU wouldn’t get any closer. A McKay Kyle kill gave Rice game point at 14-9 and Mendivil finish the job with a kill at 15-10. It was only the fourth time Rice has defeated LSU in 23 matches.
“I’m very proud of the comeback,” Volpe said. “We honestly came into the weekend with a lot of confidence and didn’t let the Texas loss rattle us, nor did we allow an 0-2 deficit to LSU get us down. That comeback was key for this group.”
The Owls couldn’t celebrate for long with another match against UC Irvine a few hours away. Rice didn’t show too many signs of weariness in a 3-1 (25-23, 27-29, 25-12, 25-22) win over the Anteaters.
Mikesky, a junior from Schulenburg, tallied a career high 23 kills to lead the Owls. Her previous best was 18, achieved three times. Harris recorded 16 kills while Okafor added 11. McDaniel set up the attackers well with 50 sets. The sophomore from The Woodlands also added 9 digs.
“I knew this tournament would show us where we stand and what we need to work on.,” Volpe said. “I’m proud of the mental toughness we showed, the fight, and just in general how hard everybody competed.”
Rice will play Lamar at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Owls home opener.
Texas won the American Campus Classic by sweeping Rice, UC Irvine and LSU.