The largest crowd of the season witnessed the Cougars avenge their loss to cross-town rival, Rice.
A total of 801 fans saw UH turn in an all-around balanced effort to topple Rice 3-1 and advance to 6-6 in Conference USA on Friday.
“There were a lot of people here and they were super excited about being here,” said head coach Kaddie Platt. “The crowd had a big impact on the win.”
Freshman middle blocker Emily Howard was motivated to win so the upperclassmen could get a victory against Rice.
“It feels amazing to beat Rice,” Howard said. “I know a lot of girls that have been here for four years, and we really wanted to win this game for them.”
Despite the first set, the Cougars rallied to take the second 25-12, with the UH defense holding Rice to its lowest point total in a single set all season. Senior middle blocker Chandace Tryon aided the effort and kept the Rice defense off-balance with four straight kills. Senior outside hitter Katie Norris matched Tryon’s total. Howard also put in four kills to contribute to the Cougar’s offensive rout in the second set.
In the third set Howard and freshman outside hitter Shelby Vance tallied block assists while Norris continued her offensive output with several kills later to help the Cougars outpace the surging Owls and take the penultimate set 25-18.
The Cougars’ offense was in full swing for the entire match with the team totaling 14 and 16 kills respectively in the final two sets. The Owls’ defense committed 28 attacking errors and could not keep up with the Cougars 55 total kills, of which Howard contributed 11 for a new career-best total. Norris put in 17, the most of the match, while senior setter Abby Simmons and her 43 assists paced the offense.
The defense tied their season-high with 26 block assists. Junior defensive specialist Meredith Ware put in a career-best, 18 digs, while freshman defensive specialist Olivia O’Dell added 12.
“I think we played really well together as a team,” said redshirt freshman middle blocker Courtney Smith. “We pushed through and when we were down, we didn’t let that get to us. We just kept fighting.”
Smith played an important role as she filled in for injured star Tryon, who went down because of an injury midway through the second set.
“At first, when I saw her go down, I was like, ‘Oh gosh’, but I knew that my teammates had my back,” Smith said. “I knew that no matter what was going to happen we were going to stay together and win.”
The final set showed the Cougars and Owls trade points, even going so close as to being 12-12, before UH broke ahead to go up 18-13. Rice reeled off three straight points to make it 22-19, but a well-timed kill by Norris and several blunders, including an attack error at the end of the game, put Rice out of contention.
“It feels spectacular,” Platt said. “Obviously, it’s a Houston rivalry and we recruit a lot of Houston kids, so to be able to take it at home is a good feeling.”