TULSA, Okla. -- Playing with resilience and stamina throughout the entire match, No. 7-seed University of Houston volleyball team overcame a 2-0 deficit to send No. 2-seed Rice home after earning a 3-2 win on Friday evening in the Opening Round of the C-USA Championship in Tulsa, Okla.
The Cougars received impressive efforts from across the board to continue their season and move on to the Semifinal Round on Saturday. Houston also improved its overall record to 9-18 overall, while Rice wrapped up its 2012 slate with a 19-12 record.
Houston received a career-best performance by senior Stephanie Nwachukwu with 17 kills on 35 attempts for a .400 hitting percentage. She surpassed her previous high in kills, which was 16, coming three times and most recently over Rice. Fellow senior Katie Norris led all attackers with 21 kills, while senior Chandace Tryon added 13 for a combined total of 51 of Houston's 61 kills.
Senior Abby Simmons continued to pace the Cougar offense with her ninth double-double in a Houston uniform, posting 54 assists and 16 digs.
As a team, Houston finished the match with a season-high eight service aces.
Defensively, the Cougars saw four players reach double-digit digs, led by sophomore libero Natalie Keck with a career-best 31 digs, surpassing her previous high of 30, which came in a win over Marshall. She was followed by freshman Olivia O'Dell with a career-tying 18 digs, while Simmons and junior Meredith Ware added 16 and 13 digs, respectively.
Houston finished with 14 block assists, led by Nwachukwu's four and redshirt freshman Courtney Smith, Tryon and freshman Shelby Vance's three.
The Cougars and Owls each finished with a hitting percentage of .148, but eight service aces to three and 14 block assists to Rice's eight-helped Houston to the win.
Houston will face (3) UCF on Saturday at 5 p.m.
HOUSTON 3, RICE 2
SET 1: Rice 25, Houston 23 Tryon notched a kill after Rice jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the opening set. Freshman Emily Howard's kill and three Owl errors allowed the Cougars to go up 6-3. Continuing to stretch its lead, Houston used kills by Vance and Nwachukwu to take a 10-6 lead and eventually extend it to 12-8. Rice then used two straight points to make it a two-point game. Norris with two kills followed by a Nwachukwu and Howard block assists to help Houston hold on to a 15-12 lead over the Owls midway through the set. Following a timeout, Rice went on a 4-0 run to even the score at 17-17. Both teams exchanged points, while a Tryon kill made it 19-18. Late kills by Nwachukwu and Howard kept Houston within one at 23-22. Rice went on to finish with a final kill for a 1-0 lead.
SET 2: Rice 25, Houston 19 Rice jumped out to a 3-1 lead and Houston used a 7-2 run to go up 10-6 quickly following. The Owls eventually went up 19-16 after the teams were tied at 13-13. Several Houston hitting errors led to a 23-18 Rice advantage. Nwachukwu kept the Cougars alive with a kill, but the Owls finished with two unanswered points for a 2-0 lead.
SET 3: Houston 25, Rice 21 Norris' kill broke up a 4-0 run by Rice to open the set. Kills by Nwacukwu and Norris kept the Cougars within reach, down by just two at 7-5. Following two Rice points, Houston responded with three unanswered to tie the set at 9-9. Scored then became even at 12-12 until Nwachukwu notched four kills over the next five points for Houston, helping the Cougars to a 16-14 lead. Rice managed to score three straight to tie the score back up at 19-19, but Houston quickly responded with four straight to build a 22-18 lead. Rice grabbed the next two, but a set error by the Owls allowed Houston to look for set point. Two Rice errors and a solo block by Smith forced a fourth set as Rice led 2-1 after three.
SET 4: Houston 25, Rice 21 Houston went up 2-0, but a 6-3 run by the Owls gave them a 6-4 lead. Nwachukwu's kill made it a one-point game. Rice's Nancy Cole strung together three straight kills to force a Houston timeout. Following the timeout, the Cougars had several big swings, which included kills by Tryon, Norris and Smith. After Rice built a 19-13 lead, Houston finished on one of the best set finishes this season with a 12-2 run to even the match at 2-2 and force a fifth and deciding set.
SET 5: Houston 15, Rice 12 Houston built a 5-1 lead after kills by Norris, Nwachukwu and a service ace by Keck. The Cougars then went up 7-2 after another 5-1 tilt. After a Rice timeout, the Owls rallied for three unanswered points to narrow the deficit toe three at 7-4 and force a Cougar timeout. Playing all out, Houston managed to maintain its lead despite a rally by Rice to make it a one-point set at 13-12. A kill by Norris and a final attacking error sealed the win for the Cougars.