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Rice, North Texas victorious in C-USA volleyball quarterfinal

Senior+middle+blocker+Jordyn+Williams+%28left%29+and+senior+setter+Karley+York+%28right%29+combine+to+block+on+FAU+attack+in+North+Texas%E2%80%99+quarterfinal+win+against+the+Owls.+
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Rice, North Texas victorious in C-USA volleyball quarterfinal

Senior middle blocker Jordyn Williams (left) and senior setter Karley York (right) combine to block on FAU attack in North Texas’ quarterfinal win against the Owls.

Senior middle blocker Jordyn Williams (left) and senior setter Karley York (right) combine to block on FAU attack in North Texas’ quarterfinal win against the Owls.

Rick Farlow

Senior middle blocker Jordyn Williams (left) and senior setter Karley York (right) combine to block on FAU attack in North Texas’ quarterfinal win against the Owls.

Rick Farlow

Rick Farlow

Senior middle blocker Jordyn Williams (left) and senior setter Karley York (right) combine to block on FAU attack in North Texas’ quarterfinal win against the Owls.

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The Rice Owls defeated the Charlotte 49ers 3-0 (25-12, 25-16, 25-23) and the North Texas Mean Green defeated the Florida Atlantic Owls 3-1 (16-25, 25-16, 25-23. 25-18) Friday in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA Volleyball Tournament Friday at the Cam Henderson Center.

The wins for Rice and North Texas sets up a match in the semifinals on Saturday between the two teams, seeded first and fifth in the tournament, respectively. The winner of Saturday’s quarterfinal will go on to play in the championship match Sunday.

“We’re excited to come out with a win, and winning in three is really important, especially in this tournament,” Rice head coach Genny Volpe said after the match. “(Charlotte)’s a very tough team, and we’re very fortunate to come out with a win.”

Volpe said her team started to slow down over the course of the match against Charlotte, and that it will have to try to avoid that moving forward in the tournament.

“I think when you win pretty solidly in the first two sets, you can get a little bit of a lull,” Volpe said. “Charlotte came out really strong (in the third set), they played like I know they can play, and we just came out a little flat.”

Rice sophomore outside hitter Nicole Lennon, who was named 2018 Conference Player of the Year, had a game-high 12 kills on 31 attacks, accounting for 14.5 points in the win for the Owls. Top-seeded Rice also saw help from junior libero Lee Ann Cunningham, who had 22 digs in the contest.

North Texas head coach Andrew Palileo said that his team started off slow against FAU, and that he thought his team left a lot of gaps in the first set before taking the next three.

“I thought we were chasing a little bit in the first set,” Palileo said. “Once we settled down and went through some of the eye sequencing for blocking and really slowed the game down, we were able to line up a little bit better in sets two, three, and four.”

One of North Texas’ key players in its win against Florida Atlantic was sophomore outside hitter Valerie Valerian, who shared a team-high 13 kills with senior middle blocker Jordyn Williams and had a game-high 18 digs. Palileo said that Valerian handled FAU much better during this game than when the two teams met in the regular season.

“They went after Val the first time during the season, both offensively and setting up the block against her,” Palileo said. “She didn’t handle as well as she did tonight. I thought she just kind of hung in there.”

Palileo also said that going into his team’s game against Rice Saturday, it will have to step it up from the way it played on Friday.

“Like I told the team, we’re going to have to play a little bit better,” Palileo said. “We have to play better defensively. We can’t come out passive, so we want to make sure we start out with aggressiveness from the beginning.”

No. 1 Rice faces No. 5 North Texas at noon Saturday in the semifinals at the Cam Henderson Center. The winner will face the either of No. 6 FIU vs. No. 7 Southern Miss for the Conference USA Championship on Sunday.

Derek Gilbert can be contacted at [email protected]

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