In the middle of an eight-match road swing that put the Bearkats against top teams such as Kansas and Arkansas State last week, SHSU travels to Houston to face Rice Tuesday night then goes on to New Orleans to matchup with Mississippi State, Pittsburgh and Tulane this weekend.
The Rice Owls are a familiar nemesis for the Bearkats. Sam Houston hasn't defeated Rice on the volleyball floor since 1996. Last season, the Owls defeated SHSU in three close sets at the SFA Invitational.
Sam Houston brings a 3-4 season record into the Rice match Tuesday. But the won-loss mark doesn't reflect how tight the matches have been. Two of the four losses came in tight five-setters that went down to the wire with Colorado from the Pac 12 and Texas State. The margin of difference in four of the six set losses to Kansas and Arkansas State last weekend was three points.
Deveney Wells-Gibson has jumped to the forefront for the Kats this season. The sophomore leads Sam Houston and ranks fifth in the Southland Conference with 3.55 kills per set this year. Wells-Gibson has been named to the All-Tournament teams in both SHSU's tournament appearances in Huntsville and in Kansas.
Kim Black ranks second in the Southland in service aces (11) and is rewriting the Bearkat record book in blocks. The senior has totaled 174 career blocks to move up to No. 4 in the all-time SHSU rankings. She stands behind only Karen Zoch (179), Gwen Gilder (189) and Bonnie Beard (214) in the record books.
Kendall Cleveland adds 2.83 kills per game to the Kat attack. Tayler Gray is a force both on offense and defense, assisting on 9.69 kills per set as setter and leading the team with 3.55 digs per game.
Rice brings a 2-5 mark into Tuesday night's match. The five losses, however, include defeats at the hands of No. 7 ranked Purdue, No. 12 Washington, LSU, BYU and Arkansas State.
Nancy Cole (3.20 kills per set) and Lizzy Bache (2.38) lead the Owls.
Sam Houston State will return to Bernard G. Johnson Coliseum to open Southland Conference play on Thursday Sept. 13. The Kats will meet the league's newest member, Oral Roberts, in a 6 p.m. match that evening.