In the wild, Longhorns and Owls rarely interact, let alone fight against one another. However, the Rice Owls gave the No. 3 Texas Longhorns trouble Wednesday night.
The Longhorns headed into Houston with momentum coming off a huge home win against then-No. 13 BYU and a strong win on the road against Wichita State to improve to 5-1 on the season. Texas looked to build upon its strong start to the season against an unranked Rice team.
However, the 9-1 Owls had a different idea.
Intially, the set seesawed as freshman Molly Phillips and sophomore Carly Graham helped tie the set at four. Rice then rattled off three straight points, taking a 7-4 lead. This set the tone for the rest of the set, as the Owls’ lead would take the set in the 25-22 upset.
Dropping the first set isn’t fatal, as Texas lost the first set and came back against BYU. Yet, this particular match felt different since Rice was at home. The fans started to feed off the energy of a building upset.
The second set started in a similar fashion with each team being tied at two a piece. The tide turned when Rice freshman Ellie Bichelmeyer grabbed a kill putting the Owls up one. Rice then went on run jumping to a 22-12 lead.
Rice senior middle blocker Grace Morgan went on a tear for the Owls during the run, recording three kills. While the Longhorns would regain their footing and battle back to make it closer, the hopes of a second set comeback were dashed with a Bichelmeyer spike, giving Rice another win.
Texas faced an early season challenge against a surprising opponent. Overcoming a two set deficit is a strong test of adversity the young team had yet to face so far this season. The team was ready for the challenge.
“It wasn’t hard for us to have energy because we feed off of that,” redshirt freshman Asjia O’Neal said. “I feel like we waited too long to bring that energy out, but once it was there it was flowing.”
The Longhorns responded with a strong start to the third set. Rice, who had played clean for most of the night, started to make mistakes. Only down by one, the Owls posted three straight attack errors, giving the Longhorns a 9-5 they would not look back from.
Texas rolled through the set, winning 25-13 in what was the beginning of an impressive comeback. Even though the attack attempts were nearly equal, the Longhorns had the edge with a hitting percentage of .276.
The Longhorns came roaring out of the gate in the fourth set jumping out to a 7-4 lead. Phillips and freshman Skylar Fields demonstrated the value of the freshmen class to the team, each contributing to the fast start to the set.
The pair recorded two blocks that drew Rice into more service errors. The momentum began to firmly shift in the Longhorns’ direction. Texas would go on to tie the match with a 25-14 set victory.
This mean the result would be decided in the fifth set. The result was epic as each team traded punches like it was the fifteenth round of a heavyweight championship.
The final set opened with points from each team in what would be a back and forth affair. The set was tied at 12 points apiece before the Owls pulled away for a 15-13 victory.
“Mostly we just talked about how everyone is going to give us their best game,” O’Neal said postgame. “When they play us we have to come out from the start and go hard and execute on the small little things. We’re just going to bounce back Friday against A&M.”
While the defeat to an unranked opponent was a shock to the team that had already beaten three highly ranked opponents this season, Texas will have to look forward to a rivalry game against Texas A&M on Friday.