Cougars drop two on the road
If there is one thing that has kept the Cougars out of first place this season, it has not been an X’s and O’s issue.
After entering the weekend one game out of first, UH (9-4, 16-7 C-USA) fell in back-to-back matches against Central Florida (12-25, 25-19, 25-23, 25-15, 5-15) and UTEP (25-23, 20-25, 25-21, 16-25, 13-15) to break their six-match win streak.
“I think they’re very clear — with the amount of talent, and as well as we’ve played — a couple of shoulders-and-up losses,” head coach Molly Alvey said. “There were times that we played really great volleyball, and that’s a hard thing to rationalize for the team.
“It’s really difficult to pinpoint anything, because when it becomes a mental problem everything shuts down.”
With the loss to Central Florida behind them, the Cougars opened up Sunday’s contest against UTEP in strong fashion. UH controlled the pace throughout the first set, racing to a 14-10 advantage on the hitting of junior Katie Norris.
After a UTEP timeout briefly steadied the Miners, the Cougars eventually closed the set out on a Norris kill to draw first blood, 25-23.
The lead, however, proved a brief advantage for the Cougars. The Miners offense burst the momentum of UH to start the second, as hitters Jeane Horton and Xitlali Herrera helped UTEP reel off a 5-1 scoring drive.
Horton and Herrera both finished the night with career-highs in kills with 25 and 20, respectively.
With the second set in the books to UTEP, 25-20, the in-state opponents traded the third and forth to force a final and deciding fifth set.
“We won sets on Sunday stepping into some great roles, but our ability to close out matches did not come through,” said Alvey.
As in the match as a whole, the fifth set was a game of momentum swings. UTEP powered to a 10-4 lead to close within points of capturing the home victory against the favored Cougars.
Led by juniors Chandace Tryon and Norris, the Cougars fought back to inch within a point of tying UTEP at 12-13, but the Miners had no intention of loosening their grip.
Down match point, UH struggled to keep the pace on their terms, and allowed UTEP’s passing to produce a Herrera kill to steal the match and UH’s six-game winning streak.
“I think for this team, regardless of how it happens, losses are tougher to handle because they’re used to winning. When you’re used to winning, it’s what you expect every time,” Alvey said.
“We need to get back to that mentality at practice. Everybody needs to expect to win.”