Rice volleyball handles North Texas, advances to championship


Sydney Shelton

Rice sophomore, Nicole Lennon, attacks above the net for a kill. She has a match-high 22 kills.

The Rice University volleyball team battled North Texas Saturday and ultimately won 3-1 (25-20, 24-26, 25-20, 25-21) in the semifinal round of the Conference USA tournament at the Cam Henderson Center.

With the win, Rice advanced to the championship match against FIU—which defeated Southern Miss 3-1 in the later quarterfinal match. The match will be Sunday at noon.

Rice head volleyball coach Genny Volpe credited her team’s mentality as the key to the Owls’ success.

“We didn’t waver,” Volpe said. “We got tested several times and we maintained our composure. We had a very large lead and they chipped away at it.”

With the teams tied at one set a piece, Rice took an eight-point lead in the third set. North Texas retaliated and outscored Rice 6-2 on the next eight points to make it an 15-11 set. But that didn’t stop Rice from winning the set, 25-20, with two kills from freshman middle Anota Adekunle and one kill from sophomore outside Nicole Lennon.

North Texas took an early 5-1 lead in the fourth set. After a Rice timeout, the Panthers went on a 14-3 run to bring the score to 15-8. The majority of the points in that run are credited to Lennon , who had five kills. Adekunle also had two kills and freshman setter Carly Graham had an ace. North Texas tried to comeback and cut the Owls’ lead to as little as two points. However, Rice took the set and match win on a Lennon Kill.

“I am obviously really proud of this team,” Volpe said. “That was a great match, a great test, North Texas is a phenomenal team.”

For Rice, Conference USA Player of the Year, Lennon, led the team with 22 kills. She was followed by Adekunle with 14 kills. Junior setter Adria Martinez led the team with 24 assists and junior libero Lee Ann Cunningham had 23 kills.

For North Texas, sophomore outside Valerie Valerian led the team with 19 kills. Senior setter Karley York had 44 assist and 13 digs.

“If we can just continue to improve our serving and passing game,” Volpe said. “To see a little more balance to our attack I think that is going to be very important moving forward.”

Sydney Shelton can be contacted at [email protected]