Volleyball loses to Rice, earns a rematch in tournament


Carolina Alvarez

Sophomore Kristen Fritsche fights the ball vs. Rice Saturday Nov. 16, 2019.

Michael Cuviello, Sports Editor

The UTEP Miners (13-14, 6-8lost Saturday to the Rice Owls (24-2,13-1) in three straight sets, thus ending the most successful regular season for the university since 2012’s 16-13 record. 

Thoroughly dominating the Miners in the first set and most of the match, Rice controlled the net throughout. After the Miners scored the first and third points of the match the team would not lead again until the first part of the third set. Early on, the Miners head close just a point behind the Owls at the 10 point mark. Rice then went on a seven-point run to take a commanding lead on the back of forced errors by UTEP. 

Rice finished off the Miners in the first set by a score of 22-16, winning the last three points in a row. UTEP finished the first set with 11 errors. 

The second set started with the first six points scored by the visiting Owls. The Miners would get no closer than five points for the remainder of the second set as Rice won 25-13. UTEP once again finished with doubledigit errors with 10 in the second frame of the match. 

Showing that there was still plenty of fight left in the Miners, UTEP started off with the first three points of the third set. Sophomore Kristen Fritsche had an assist on the first five points of the third set for the Miners. Rice started making a move once the Miners had a 5-2 lead with four straight points. 

Once again, much like the previous set, the Miners stalled once they reached nine points with Rice going on another sevenpoint ruto take control of the match. The Miners would go on to only score three more points for the final set as Rice closed out the victory and sweep 25-12. 

Junior Mallory Yost and redshirt freshman Kenidy Howard had five blocks apiece with Fritsche leading the team with 12 assists. 

UTEP has played Rice twice this season and has lost all six sets in those matches 

The good news is UTEP is the seventh seed of the Conference USA Tournament, making it for the first time since 2016. Unfortunately, the bad news is that UTEP faces Rice once again in the opening round of the tournament. The overall series stands at 10 wins for the Miners and 36 for the Owl. The Miners have won one match out of the last five. 

When Ben Wallis took over as the Miners head coach, he took over a team that has not had double-digit wins since 2013. In year one Wallis had more victories than the two previous seasons combined and the first doubledigit win season since 2013. He will retain the vast majority of the roster with only two contributing players graduating 

It is going to take a herculean effort to beat a team like this, Wallis said. “We got to be able to believe that we can execute this stuff. The difference between a team like us and Rice is that they have two athletes that are among the best athletes in the country. We got one more shot at this. It is now a one and done type of situation. I am proud of the changes we have made, but I am not yet satisfied with where we are yet.” 

Wallis seems to have the team trending in the right direction as UTEP finished 12th the prior season and was predicted to finish 11th this season. 

UTEP takes on Rice University Friday, Nov. 22, in Houston, in the opening round of the Conference-USA Tournament. 

Michael Cuviello may be reached at t[email protected].