Strong finish for Cougars
For a moment, the Cougars appeared to have given away a two-set lead, and the final match of the season.
Down match point in the fifth set, UH (19-11, 12-8 Conference USA) was on the verge of being stunned by Rice before junior Chandace Tryon hammered in three consecutive kills to give Houston the victory (25-22, 25-21, 21-25, 20-25, 16-14), and the season sweep against its cross-town rivals.
“This was an incredible win for us, and not only a win, but a win against Rice,” head coach Molly Alvey said. “These kinds of wins against an in-town rival really make a statement.
“I think we played a very consistent volleyball match start to finish. We had one point-run in set three, and I think that cost us the set. But we were able to pull it all together, stay in it mentally and finish all the way through.”
The Cougars took the first two sets comfortably, with junior Stephanie Nwachukwu landing nine kills on 19 attempts to lead the offense for UH.
After struggling with pressure execution for weeks, UH’s frontline committed only six attack errors through sets one and two, and went into the break hitting an efficient .371 as a team.
The Owls charged back in the third set with clutch hitting from outside hitters Nancy Cole and Mariah Riddlesprigger pushing the Cougar defense from both ends of the floor with a balanced attack. With Rice leading 15-12, Alvey called a timeout to stop the bleeding, but the Owls continued their onslaught out of the break and finished the set 25-21.
Playing her last game as a Cougar, middle blocker Lucy Charuk continued her stellar senior year, pounding in 12 kills on a .375 hitting clip.
“We kept talking,” Charuk said. “Communication was good. It didn’t matter if we got blocked or served the ball into the net. We were still looking to the next point.
“There was no turning back. There was nothing more we could do. We just had to find a way to keep hanging tough with those guys.”
After stealing the fourth set 25-20, the Owls’ momentum stalled to start the fifth, as the Cougars rebounded from the offensive drought. Through 11 ties and five lead changes, Houston fought to gridlock the match at 13-13, before Riddlesprigger tied her career-high, hammering in her 20th kill to give Rice match point.
With the match on the line, freshman setter Caitlin Ogletree looked to Tryon to the deliver the Cougars a much-needed offensive jolt.
Taking the set from Ogletree, Tryon laid in a deep kill to the back of the court to tie the match 14-14. After a UH timeout, Tryon and Ogletree connected on back-to-back plays to put away the Owls 16-14 in the fifth set.
Tryon finished the night with 15 kills and two digs.
“I’m so proud of this team,” Charuk said, fighting tears.
“We’ve put so much into it, and it’s all paid off. I couldn’t be happier to end the season and my career this way.”
With the victory, UH finishes the season in a third-place tie with Central Florida.