EL PASO, Texas – Torrance Lovesee and Sara Pustahija each achieved a match- and career-high of 19 kills in a competitive five-set match against No. 22 Rice Saturday afternoon in Memorial Gym.
The Miners’ (10-8, 4-1 Conference USA) 2-0 lead fell short as No. 22 Rice (15-1, 5-0 C-USA) secured a tight five-set reverse sweep victory, 3-2 (25-23, 25-20, 15-25, 20-25, 14-16).
Mattie Gantt (24) and Hande Yetis (23) combined to put up 47 assists for the Miners and Hula Crisostomo had a team-high 20 digs.
No. 22 Rice held the statistical advantage in kills (66-61), blocks (18-17), and hitting percentage (.296 – .216). Both teams recorded six aces.
“I told my team all week this would be a measuring stick to see where we were and unfortunately, right now on October 8th, we’re two points worse than Rice,” head coach Ben Wallis said. “That’s kind of what it comes down to. They’re just a little bit better than we are in the execution point of the long rally and the transition stuff.”
SET ONE | UTEP took a quick 5-1 lead to begin the match, but the Owls were able to tie up the set to seven even. Both teams exchanged points with eight more tied scores until a kill by Lovesee and service ace by Gantt gave the lead to UTEP, 23-21. Darley and Lovesee put down UTEP’s final two points to win the opening set, 25-23.
SET TWO | Both teams pressured each other to start the second set with six ties, but back-to-back errors from the Owls and a kill by Pustahija put the Miners up 12-9 forcing the Owls to take a timeout. UTEP stretch the lead by six points with the help of Pustahija putting up two blocks and a kill, 20-14. A pair of kills by the Miners landed them at set point, 24-17. The Owls late 4-0 run came up short as Pustahija sealed the second set for UTEP, 25-20.
SET THREE | The Owls jumped to a 6-1 lead and stuck it out with a 5-0 run forcing UTEP to sidebar, 16-9. After the break, the Owls posted another three straight points to lead by 10. With one error from the Owls, UTEP posted five kills, but the squad was a little too late as Rice took the set, 25-15.
SET FOUR | Another back-and-forth set kept the Miners out their toes. The Owls used their first timeout of the set after UTEP drove a quick 5-2 run with back-to-back kills by Kaya Weaver, 11-7. The Owls turned the set around after they pulled out a 5-0 run of their own to take the lead, 16-13. Rice continued to stretch the lead as they thrived off UTEP errors and tied up the match at two a piece after a 25-20 set win.
SET FIVE | The final set came down to the wire with massive pressure put on both teams. UTEP’s successful challenge gave the Miners momentum to take the lead and run a 3-1 run, 8-5. A block and kill by the Owls reverted the lead back to them and the teams continued to exchange points, breaking even at 10, 12, and 14. Rice landed two kills to win the match, 16-14.
Final Thoughts from Coach Wallis
“We dug it well enough in that fifth set and we just didn’t take the big swings off the top of the block to get the plays that we needed. And we perfectly executed a pass there at the end, and we just set them off a little off the net that forces us to roll started. Sara was great and we didn’t get the swing we wanted, and they executed. They dug in, hit it back and it was hard. Right now, we’re really a good volleyball team. We’re just not good enough to beat Rice right now at this moment on 10/8. But we got them again. Hopefully, potentially twice and that’s the measuring stick right now. So, I told my team that right now on October 8th, we’re just not good enough to beat a good top 25/11 RPI team in the country. But we’re very good. We just got to find a way to make sure in transition when it counts and when it costs, we go big, and we earn that and I just I love my team. I love coaching them. I’m excited to play it again.”
Miners take on LA Tech on Friday (Oct. 12) at 5 p.m. MT in Ruston, La.