By Geoff Thurner
HOUSTON, Texas - The Fresno State volleyball team (1-2) capped its season-opening weekend with a 3-2 win over UC Davis and 3-0 loss to host Rice (3-0) Saturday afternoon and evening in the Adidas Rice Invitational.
In Saturday finale vs. the Owls, the `Dogs were edged 25-18, 25-14, 25-22 to fall to Rice for the first time since 2004.
Fresno State led the team comparison for digs (57-56); Rice sported advantages in hitting (.325-.150), fewest service errors (1-4) and blocks (10-1); and the two teams tied in kills (44-44) and aces (2).
"We have work to do and will get back to it on Monday," Fresno State head coach Lauren Netherby-Sewell said. "Zana (Bowens) had her shot this weekend and took advantage. She did it all for us, and we'll look to her for more leadership. We have all the pieces, we just need it to come together more consistently. We need a balance of patience and hunger from this group. They need time to learn our system, but the drive to grow up fast. We'll get there."
For Fresno State, junior outside hitter Zana Bowens logged her second double-double of the day and fourth of her career after she led the team Saturday night in kills (16) and ranked second in digs (10). Her team-season high 18 points also included a `Dog match best in aces (2).
After the match, the Long Beach native was tabbed to the All-Tournament Team for her first career honor. For the three weekend matches combined, she led the team in kills (2.92 p/s), hitting (.267) and points (3.12 p/s), and ranked third in aces (0.17 p/s) and digs (2.75 p/s).
Redshirt freshman outside hitter Haylee Roberts topped the team in hitting (.316 - 8 kills, 2 errors, 19 attempts) for the second time on the weekend and posted her first +.300 total.
Sophomore libero Maggie Eppright ended with 18 digs - her career high for a three-set match - and two better than her 16 last year at UNLV and Utah State.
For the Owls, Leah Miesky led Rice in kills (18), hitting (.500), points (20) and aces (1), and other Rice category leaders included Sara Blasier (35), Daniela Arenas (15 digs), Jillian Humphrey (4 locks) and Lizzy Bache (4 blocks).
Other all-tournament members selected by head coaches included Louisiana-Lafayette's Andrea Hole (tourney MVP), Kaylee Nemeth and Chanelle Gardner, Rice's Blasier and Mikesky, and UC Davis' Kaylin Squyres.
Overall, the Ragin' Cajuns won the tournament title with a 3-0 mark that included a 3-1 win over Fresno State in both teams' season opener Friday evening.
Earlier Saturday, Fresno State enjoyed its first win of the season with a 3-2 decision over UC Davis (0-2).
The `Dogs rebounded from a 25-19 first-set loss to take the second and third sets by 25-21 and 28-26 scores. UC Davis bounced back to claim the fourth set, 25-22, but the `Dogs used an early 5-0 lead in the fifth set to win the clincher, 15-11.
"I was happy with how we fought hard to win," Netherby-Sewell said. "We played better than yesterday against an athletic team. In the third set, we especially had to battle it out to win, but our players stood tough. Even though we have a lot of inexperienced players, they played like they were experienced in the fifth set when it mattered the most."
In the final team comparisons, the `Dogs held edges in hitting (.194-.183), digs (87-82) and fewest service errors (11-18), and UC Davis owned advantages in kills (59-58), aces (10-6) and blocks (10-7).
Bowens added her third career double-double with her team-leading 20 digs.
Defensively, senior defensive specialist Christina Lee tied for the team lead in digs (20) and aces (2). Eppright added 18 digs and an ace, and Roberts topped the team in blocks (5).
"Zana had a huge impact offensively and defensively," Netherby-Sewell said. "She passed and dug well and served tough. We need players to play like that. Christina made an impact which is not easy in her position. She dug a lot of balls and controlled them pretty well. She passed well and had no receiving errors so that really helped us."
In her first start of the year, junior middle blocker Molly Pearson tied for the team lead in aces (2), and her four blocks was one shy of the team lead. Her seven kills and 17 attempts also stood as career highs as did her pair of aces.
Junior setter Jelena Jovanovic ended with 43 assists, and posted her second straight double-double thanks to her 16 digs.
"We moved Molly back to the middle and she stepped up and played like we've seen her play the last few weeks," Netherby-Sewell said. "We really needed her, and she blocked dependably and did whatever we needed."
Saturday's outcome raised Fresno State's all-time edge in the series that dates back to 1972 to 10-6, and evened Netherby-Sewell's record to 2-2 against the Aggies. Fresno State also won their last meeting in 2012 (3-0), while UC Davis won in straight sets in 2008 and '10.
"We have a lot to work on, but we're getting better each match," Netherby-Sewell said. "We'll keep building from here and get important experience some tough teams."
Looking ahead, the 'Dogs travel to the Sacramento State Invitational next Friday-Saturday, September 5-6. Fresno State first plays Sacramento State on Friday at 7 p.m., then faces UC Santa Barbara and Loyola Marymount on Saturday at 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., respectively.
More tournament information is available at the www.HornetSports.com website.
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