Oct. 22, 2008
NEW ORLEANS - The Tulane University volleyball team will open a four-match league road swing on Friday, Oct. 24, when the Green Wave travel to Houston to take on Conference USA foe Rice at 7 p.m. at Fox Gym.
The contest marks the beginning of the second half of the C-USA season for all league teams and the first of two matches in Houston as Tulane will stay in town on Saturday before battling the University of Houston on Sunday at 2 p.m. The Green Wave enter the weekend 16-5 on the year and 7-1 in league play at the midway point of the conference season. They realize, however, that the second half of the conference schedule can be a much more difficult task.
"Practices have been very focused and they have been very challenging," Tulane head coach Liz Kritza said of her team's preparation for the weekend. "The team understands that the first half of the conference season is very different from the second half. We are in the second half now. It is the second go around, everyone has improved and they are all looking toward the postseason.
"As a team that has fared well thus far, we cannot rest on our laurels and we have not done that. We have evaluated what we have done right, and more importantly, what we can get better at. We made a good, concentrated effort to improve in certain errors that will hopefully help us continue our winning ways."
The Green Wave enter Friday night's matchup having emerged victorious in their five consecutive matches and winners of their last 15 matches. Tulane is fresh off a 3-0 week after sweeping cross-town foe UNO on Tuesday before claiming straight-set C-USA victories against East Carolina and Marshall on Friday and Sunday, respectively.
As a team, the Green Wave are averaging 13.93 kills, 13.03 assists, 14.43 digs and 1.98 blocks per set. Senior outside hitter Sara Radosevic leads the squad with 3.63 kills per set, junior Jenn Miller paces the club with 3.88 digs per contest, and senior middle blocker Jen Linder headlines the team with 1.00 blocks per outing.
"The last two weeks of playing conference opponents, it has been a steady learning process," Kritza said. "Yes, it is about picking up more wins and being successful, but it is also about improving. The areas that we have improved on in the last couple of weeks will serve us well this weekend. We have to continue to execute and continue to focus on getting better every time we play. The only time you really get better is when you are tested. I really think we will be tested this weekend and I think they are ready for that test."
Rice, meanwhile, enters the weekend 16-4 on the season, 7-2 in Conference USA play and winners of its last six matches. The Owls are also 7-2 at Fox Gym, including a 3-1 victory over Houston on Tuesday night.
As a team, the Owls are averaging 14.59 kills, 13.59 assists, 16.83 digs and 1.88 blocks per set. Karyn Morgan paces Rice with 3.45 kills per set, Tracey Lam leads the club with 4.97 digs per set, and Caroline Gill headlines the front-row defense with 0.98 blocks per stanza.
Rice is hitting .264 (1021-345-2564) for the year while limiting opponents to a .149 clip (793-410-2566). Owl opponents are averaging 11.33 kills, 10.59 assists, 14.41 digs and 1.87 blocks per set.
"Playing the Rice Owls the second time around will be a very, very challenging opponent," Kritza said. "They are playing well. They have dropped two matches in conference play - one to us and a tough one to Tulsa in five. They are a team that relies on their offensive power just like we do. Whichever team can knock the other team out of their offensive system earlier and play better defense will prevail in this match. I predict it will be a really tough, exciting match and we are expecting Rice to come after us with everything they have. They have score to settle with us after losing to us here the last time we played.
"We are expecting them to be a much improved team. The things they tried to do the last time around, they will improve on. And I expect them to continue to do the things that did work the last time we played. Other than going back and revisiting what the game plan was to play Rice, we needed to make some improvements this week to prepare to play better defense, to block better and to expect them to come after what our weaknesses were last time. I think we have done that because we have worked hard in practice."
Friday's match between Tulane and Rice marks the 18th meeting between the two teams, and the Green Wave hold a slight 10-7 advantage in the all-time series. Under Kritza's direction, Tulane is 7-2 against the Owls, including a 3-1 victory over Rice back on Sept 28 in Fogelman Arena.
Rice won the first two meetings with Tulane in their first season as a member of C-USA in 2005, but the Green Wave exacted a bit of revenge with a 3-2 win in the first round of that year's league tournament to start a seven-match winning streak against the Owls.
"The thing about that match was we were just beginning to understand the idea of keeping a team out of system and setting ourselves up to play proper team defense against them," Kritza said of the two teams' meeting earlier this season. "Rice is always a team that is going to have a good number of digs. As of late, they have been able to stay in system and score at a pretty high pace. We knew that we had to stop them from being able to score with us so that our offense would continue to be our advantage. That was the difference last time. We need to keep that advantage this time and we need to improve our own team defense against them."
Following Friday's match at Rice, the Green Wave return to action on Sunday, Oct. 26, when they travel across town to take on Conference USA foe Houston at 2 p.m. at the Athletics Alumni Center. The showdown at Houston is set to be televised via tape-delay on CBS College Sports Television.
From there, Tulane will play at UCF on Oct. 31, and at Southern Miss on Nov. 4. The Green Wave's next home match will be on Friday, Nov. 7, with a 7 p.m. showdown against C-USA foe SMU. For ticket information, contact the Tulane University Athletics Ticket Office at 504-861-WAVE.