Weekend road trip eats up Cougars
The Cougars traveled to Tulsa, Okla., riding the momentum of a five-game winning streak and tied for the top record in Conference USA.
That momentum hit a roadblock Friday, as UH (10-5, 3-2 C-USA) fell in straight sets to Tulsa (20-25, 14-25, 23-25) and again to SMU (28-26, 25-27, 25-12, 21-25, 12-15) Sunday.
“I actually think we played some great volleyball at times,” head coach Molly Alvey said. “Against Tulsa we really hung tough the first set. In the second we were kind of shell-shocked I think, but came back strong in the third.
“But what it really comes down to is making plays at the end. This team is still learning how to win — not just some of the time, but consistently.”
UH battled the Golden Hurricane (13-4, 4-0) point-for-point in the first set of Friday’s contest, pushing the Tulsa offense to a 15-15 tie. Led by middle blocker Lucy Charuk, the Cougar front line held together through repeated attempts by Tulsa’s hitters to stretch the lead.
The Golden Hurricane finally pushed through at 16-16, as they regrouped to reel off four unanswered points.
After fending off a small late surge by UH, Tulsa ultimately took the first set 20-25 on the play of outside hitter Diana Silva.
“Lucy really came out to play, and did a great job keeping us in it,” Alvey said.
“But I think we’re still looking for someone to step up for us on a consistent basis. That means you can’t hit .800 one match and then .150 the next. It’s about consistency.”
After matching Tulsa’s intensity throughout the hotly-contested first set, the Cougars fell behind early in the second, allowing Tulsa’s hitters to score at will.
With a quick burst, Silva and the Golden Hurricane offense raced to a 5-16 lead and did not look back, closing the set out at 25-13.
Down two sets, UH managed a strong effort in the third set, but could not overcome the surging Tulsa frontline. The Cougars would drop the set 23-25, marking the first time UH has been swept since Sept. 2 by Dayton.
Charuk finished the match with a team-high 10 kills.
On a quick turnaround, UH stopped in Dallas Sunday for a matinee showdown against reeling SMU (5-11, 1-3 C-USA).
The Cougars rushed out to a 4-1 lead, as juniors Katie Norris and Stephanie Nwachukwu came alive after Friday’s defeat. After briefly fending off an SMU run, UH took a firm grasp on the set, eventually closing it out at 28-26.
SMU, however, had no intention of being dismissed quietly. After regrouping from the first set, the Mustangs forced Houston to a 13-13 tie in the second.
As in many of UH’s past losses, offensive errors plagued the Cougars throughout the second set. With the match deadlocked at 25-25, two key hitting errors handed the Mustangs the second set.
“Deflating losses are just that, they’re deflating,” Alvey said.
“We played solid volleyball for a lot of the match, but we can’t get over the hump when we’re not making plays at the end of sets.”
After trading sets three and four, UH was forced into a fifth set for only the third time this season. Though holding claim to a comfortable 2-0 record in five set contests, the Cougars came out tight to start the fifth against the Mustangs.
Houston came alive briefly to tie the set at 8-8 and force an SMU timeout, but the Mustang hitters caught fire out of the break to score five unanswered points.
The Cougars would drop the set, 15-12, and the match.