3The Cougars handed Rice just its third loss in its last 14 games.
11Emily Howard posted a career-high 11 kills and tied her career high in block assists with seven.
12 Houston held Rice to just 12 points in Set 2 for its worst set loss of the season at 25-12.
HOUSTON -- Playing in front of a season-high 801 Cougar fans, the University of Houston volleyball team powered past Rice, earning a 3-1 victory, during its Dig Pink match on Friday evening in Conference USA play at the Athletics/Alumni Center.
The Cougars used an all-around effort and saw several players record career-bests en route to its sixth conference win this season. The win improved Houston's record to 7-15 and 6-6 in Conference USA action, while Rice, who entered the game in second place in C-USA standings, fell to 16-10 and 9-3.
Despite falling 25-19 in set one, Houston responded with one of its most impressive set wins of the season, dominating Rice to a 25-12 score. The 12 points was the lowest points scored for the Owls in a single set this season. That 16-kill effort sparked a strong finish, which saw Houston record 14 and 16 kills, respectively in the final two sets.
On the match, the Cougars posted 55 kills and managed to hold Rice to just 44. Senior Katie Norris led the offense with a match-high 17 kills, followed by freshman Emily Howard, who posted a career-high 11 kills. She surpassed her previous high of 10 kills, which came on Oct. 14 against Marshall.
Joining Norris and Howard on the attacking side was senior Stephanie Nwachukwu with eight kills, followed by freshman Shelby Vance with six. At the setter position, senior Abby Simmons added five kills, while redshirt freshman Courtney Smith, off the bench, contributed with four in several crucial situations.
Simmons once again paced the offense with 43 assists and a .364 percentage.
Defensively, sophomore libero Natalie Keck led the team with 19 digs, while junior Meredith Ware recorded a career-best 18 digs. Freshman Olivia O'Dell went on to chip in with 12 and Norris added nine, one shy of a double-double.
The blocking end proved to be key for the Cougars in the win as they tallied 26 block assists, tying a season-high. Howard led the team with seven block assists, while Nwachukwu added six, followed by Vance (career high) and senior Chandace Tryon with four each.
Rice was forced into 28 attacking errors and was held to a mere .105 attacking percentage.
HOUSTON 3, RICE 1
SET 1: Rice 25, Houston 19 Houston took a 3-1 lead with a kill by Vance and block assist by Tryon and Nwachukwu to open the game. The Cougars then went on a 5-2 run to take an 8-4 lead following two kills by Norris and a kill by Nwachukwu. Following a Rice timeout, the Owls used a 7-2 run of their own to take its first lead of the set at 11-10. A Tryon kill made it a one-point game at 13-12, but four unanswered Rice points put the Owls up 17-12 as Norris and Howard teamed up for a block assists to make it a four-point game. Rice put itself in contention for a set point at 24-16, but Houston rallied off three straight points with a Nwachukwu kill and a block assist by Tryon and Nwachukwu. A final Rice kill ended the Cougars' rally to take a 1-0 lead in the match.
SET 2: Houston 25, Rice 12 Houston went up 6-1 following four straight kills by Tryon, Norris and Howard. Rice pulled within three at 6-3, but no better the rest of the way as the Cougars strung together an impressive set with 16 kills for a .353 attack percentage. A 9-3 run sparked by several strong attacks put Houston up 22-11 late. The Cougars allowed one final Rice kill down the stretch, but secured the set two win with a dominating finish with kills from Norris and Vance to tie the match at 1-1.
SET 3: Houston 25, Rice After being tied at 5-5, Houston grabbed an early lead with a kill by Nwachukwu and a block assist by Howard and Vance to go up 8-5. Both teams exchanged points for much of the set until the Cougars went up by six at 16-10. Rice made a run and pulled within three (17-14), but Norris continued to remain offensively strong from the outside, tallying two much-needed kills. Houston took a 20-18 lead and never looked back, finishing with five unanswered points on kills by Howard, Smith, and Norris for the 2-1 match lead.
SET 4: Houston 25, Rice 22 A back and forth battle from start to finish was evident in the fourth set. Tied as late as 12-12, Houston would go on to lead following a Smith kill. A 6-1 run midway through the set led to an 18-13 lead for the Cougars. Nwachukwu stepped up big and provided Houston with two crucial successful attacks to keep the Cougars on top. Rice threatened with three straight points to make it a three-point game at 22-19, but a Norris kill ended the threat. Two late Rice errors led to final points for Houston.
POST-GAME QUOTES Head Coach Kaddie Platt Overall thoughts on the game It was a well-executed game plan. The girls came out ready and focused and executed their game plan to a `T'."
On the crowd "There were a lot of people here and they were super excited about being here. The crowd had a big impact on the win today."
On how it feels to beat Rice "It feels spectacular. Obviously it's a Houston rivalry and we recruit a lot of Houston kids, so to be able to take it at home is a good feeling."
Emily Howard Overall thoughts on the game "I thought we played really well. Everyone had a lot of intensity. Everybody came out ready to play. We know that Rice is a good team, but we came out ready to play. We stuck to the game plan really well."
On the crowd "The crowd was great. The place was packed. The band as always was really awesome. Coog Crew and everyone was excited for every point that we scored."
On what helped to have such a good game "Our intensity. Whenever you get pumped up for a point it brings them down. We got excited a lot. Working hard for every point and not giving up in the long rallies was key for us. We were able to just stick with the game plan and not give up."
On how it feels to beat Rice "It feels amazing to beat Rice. I know a lot of girls that were here for four years. We really wanted to win this game for them. It's amazing to beat Rice."
Courtney Smith Overall thoughts on the game "I think we played really well together as a team. We pushed through and when we were down we didn't let that get to us. We just kept fighting."
On her thoughts on the crowd "The crowd was amazing tonight. We felt if we missed a serve, we knew we weren't going to fall down because we had the crowd there to help us pick up our energy."
On how it feels to beat Rice "It's the best feeling ever. Since it's the last time we're going to play them in conference, it was a big win for us."
On how she was able to fill in for an injured Chandace Tryon "At first when I saw her go down I was like "Oh gosh", but I knew that my teammates had my back. I knew that no matter what was going to happen we were going to stay together and win."
SERIES HISTORY Houston and Rice will met for the 81st time in school history with the Cougars now leading the all-time series at 61-19. The two teams split the season's contests with Rice earning a 3-0 victory back on Sept. 18 and Houston winning 3-1 at home tonight.
STAY CONNECTED Follow Houston Volleyball on Twitter @UHCougarVB and "Like" /HoustonCougarVolleyball on Facebook.
UP NEXT Houston will wrap up its 2012 home slate when it hosts UCF at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2 and Southern Miss at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 4 for Senior Day.