EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – UTEP volleyball (10-7, 4-0 Conference USA) is on a roll right now. The Miners started Conference USA play with four straight wins and currently own a six-game win streak.
UTEP head coach Ben Wallis and his squad have got themselves in a groove after a 4-7 start to the season. Wallis pins the early struggles in the season on the process of acclimating new pieces to the team.
“Early in the year, we were stopping people, blocking it really well, serving it really well, digging it well, but we just weren’t scoring very well. A lot of that has to do with the new personnel and a new team and having to understand certain tempos at certain times in the match and in transition,” said Wallis. “So that’s a big part of why we’re doing well lately, and that’s why we’ve been able to roll up six wins in a row and get that snowball rolling down the hill.”
“Preseason had a lot of tests for us. We played a lot of really competitive teams,” said UTEP outside hitter Serena Patterson. “I think we finally got into a comfortable line up. We are scoring more, which is great, and I think we are just playing team ball which is really good.”
The Miners will put their six-game winning streak on the line when they face the nationally ranked Rice Owls on Saturday at Memorial Gym.
No. 22 Rice (14-1, 4-0 Conference USA), who is also the 11th ranked RPI team in the country, is also undefeated in Conference USA play at this point of the year.
Rice comes in with one of the best attacking offenses in the country. The Owls are ranked 45th in the NCAA in kills per set (13.5) and 34th in hitting percentage (.260). Rice’s defense is also one of the best in the country. The Owls are ranked 12th in the NCAA in opponents hitting percentage (.153).
UTEP, who has recently found its form, knows Rice will be their biggest challenge yet this season and are ready to take it on.
“We know that they’re going to give us some fits athletically that we can’t deal with, but we also know that we’re going to give them fits athletically and tactically with the things that we do in our team and our strengths. And we’re looking forward to that matchup,” said Wallis. “We’ve been preparing for this for a while and our players have a little different smile on their face this week because they know they’re going to measure themselves against someone in Rice, who is one of the top teams in the country. What else do you do this for than to play against the best in division one volleyball?”
“We’ve always competed with Rice ever since I’ve been here. We’ve won my freshman year in 2018, in 2019 we lost in four, then last year we lost in five and then this year I’m hopeful that we’ll beat them,” said Patterson. “It’s been like a test every year, but I think we finally have a good team to where we can really beat them.”
You can see the Miners and Owls face off on Saturday, Oct. 8 at 12 p.m. MT in Memorial Gym in El Paso, Texas.