HOUSTON, Texas – It was mixed results on the last day of the Rice Invitational for UALR (2-4) as it started the afternoon by coming from behind to beat Rice (1-5) 20-25, 22-25, 25-19, 26-24, 15-11. In the nightcap, UALR fell to Texas A&M Corpus Christi (2-4) 20-25, 25-21, 22-25, 25-21, 16-14.
For the day, sophomore Sonja Milanovic led UALR with 57 kills and a .454 hitting percentage (13 errors, 97 attempts). In the second match against the Islanders, Milanovic matched a school record with 34 kills. Junior Edina Begic followed up with 55 kills and a .320 hitting percentage for the day but had her nine-match double-double streak snapped.
Junior Marleen de Zoete added 115 assists, passing Maialla Hurga (2,270) and Paula Morgan (2,301) to move to third in career assists. She has 2,341 helpers for her career.
Junior Capri Rino led the team with 50 digs for the day while classmate Adisa Hodzic (11) and freshman Carolee Dillard (10) both reached double-digits in blocks.
Against the pre-season Conference USA favorite, UALR rallied from a two set deficit to defeat Rice in five sets. In the match, UALR used a small edge in kills (71-70) and hitting percentage (.305-.250) to edge out the Owls. The Trojans also held a 12-7 advantage on the block.
Individually, Begic led the match with 28 kills. Milanovic added 23 of her own while de Zoete contributed 57 assists. Rino had the highest UALR dig count for a match this year with 27 balls dug out against the Owls.
A quartet of Rice players reached double digits in kills, led by Jillian Humphrey’s 17. Noelle Whitlock completed the double-double with 10 kills and 12 digs while Megan Murphy added 44 assists.
In the third set down two, the Trojans raced out to a 17-11 lead before an 8-1 run put the Owls up 19-18. A Milanovic kill gave her the serve, and UALR did not look back in the frame. A Begic spike and her own assisted block with Dillard put UALR up 22-19 and forced a Rice timeout. The Trojans kept the pressure on the Owls thanks to a pair of Begic kills around Milanovic’s only ace of the match to cut the Rice advantage to 2-1.
In the third to stave off the loss, UALR had its best set hitting percentage of the match with 17 kills and only four errors on 31 swings (.419 hitting percentage).
Set four was the tightest frame with UALR claiming a 26-24 triumph to tie the match. Down 5-4, Hodzic recorded the kill to knot the set and put Begic on serve. Begic and Milanovic added kills and a bad set by Rice pushed UALR out to an 8-5 lead. Later in the set, Begic put herself on serve with a kill and UALR followed it up with a Hodzic-Milanovic block. An attack error put the visitors up 19-12.
Rice did not go quietly as the Owls managed to hold off a pair of UALR set points on kills by Humphrey and Whitlock. UALR called timeout and sent the game to a fifth set. Humphrey recorded an error for Rice followed by a Milanovic slam gave the Trojans the 26-24 set win. UALR outhit the Owls .385-.267 in the frame.
The theatrics were not over as both teams put together service runs to take slim leads in the fifth. UALR started up 2-0 on Milanovic’s serve thanks to a pair of Rice errors. With the Trojans up 5-3, Lizzy Bache cut the deficit in half with a kill before a Hodzic attack error tied the set at five. Another Bache kill put Rice up and forced a UALR timeout. Out of the break, Bache and Stephanie Mendivil teamed up for Owls to put the home team up 7-5.
Both teams sided out the next six points. Down 10-8, UALR delivered the knockout blow to Rice. Milanovic found the floor to put UALR on serve and a bad set for Rice knotted the match at 10. Another Milanovic kill put the Trojans up for good at 11-10 and forced a Rice timeout. A Begic kill and a Rice attack error forced the Owls to use another stoppage in play, but Begic slammed down another kill and put UALR on four set points. A kill by Humphrey brought Rice within three, but de Zoete went over the net successfully off of freshman Kelsey Leech’s dig and UALR took the match, 3-2. In the frame, UALR outhit Rice .350-.211
With the win, it was UALR’s first match since Sept. 4, 2009 (Oral Roberts) that it trailed by a pair of sets only to rally for the victory.
Texas A&M Corpus Christi came back to win an exciting five-set match of its own over UALR in the nightcap. The Trojans held a 72-60 edge in kills and a slim .274-.268 edge in hitting, but the Islanders capitalized off of 12 Trojan service errors.
Individually, Milanovic hit .375 (34 kills and 10 errors on 64 swings) while Begic hit .358 (27 kills, eight errors on 53 attempts). Junior Allison Wyatt had a Trojan-best 14 digs while de Zoete added 58 assists.
For the Islanders, Ashley Phelps and Briana Brinkman each had 14 kills. Logen Bourque had 50 kills and Hailey King had 19 digs.
UALR took the first set by five points. Up 17-16, Begic, Milanovic and freshman Rachel Williams all notched kills to put UALR up four. TAMCC sided out, but Milanovic responded with a kill and block followed by a Corpus Christi attack error put UALR up 23-17. An attack error gave UALR the frame, 25-20.
The Islanders bounced back in set two. Up 21-20, Ivy Baresh recorded kills before a de Zoete attack error put the Islanders up five. Baresh added another kill to give Corpus Christi set point. Both teams sided out the next points and the Islanders tied the match going into intermission.
Set three saw Corpus Christi record the first five points, but UALR quickly went on a 7-1 run and the frame was close until both teams were tied at 18. Begic recorded a pair of kills and a Hodzic-Williams block put UALR up three. Texas A&M scored the next point, but Begic answered with a kill to put UALR up 22-19. Up 24-22, a Milanovic kill put UALR up two sets to one.
After the Islanders captured the fourth 25-21, the stage was set for yet another sudden death frame. The Islanders jumped up four and clung to a 13-10 lead before a UALR run. An attack error and a pair of Begic kills tied the set at 13. Another Islander attack error put UALR on match point, but three miscues by UALR gave Texas A&M Corpus Christi the set 16-14.
UALR returns to action next Friday when it travels to Las Cruces, N.M., for the New Mexico State Tournament. The Trojans battle Northern Illinois at 1:30 p.m. and New Mexico State at 8:30 p.m. on Friday (Sept. 13). UALR concludes the weekend on Saturday (Sept. 14) against Southern Utah at 11 a.m.