Andrew J. Ferraro
For the Houston Cougars volleyball team last weekend, it was a tale of the two cities, two wins and two stars.
Going into matches versus Cincinnati and Louisville, they knew it wasn't going to be easy. They knew they were going to have to play their best volleyball of the year and eliminate any mistakes in their game.
And after wins over the Bearcats on Friday night and over the Cardinals on Sunday afternoon, the results are in: First, the proverbial can has been opened, and second, the Cougars are in the driver's seat in the Conference USA standings.
Their 3-2 (15-9, 13-15, 5-15, 15-11, 15-8) victory over Cincinnati extended their unbeaten C-USA winning streak to eight games.
Their ninth conference win in a row came 36 hours later in a 3-0 (15-9, 16-14, 16-14) drubbing of Louisville.
As far as the two stars are concerned, kudos to senior outside hitter Emily Leffers and junior outside hitter Debbie Vokes.
Leffers "merely" tallied 53 kills in six games for an average of 8.8 per game. Throw in her 40 digs and nine blocks and you've got your player of the weekend.
Vokes was held to just 12 kills on Friday night, but exploded for 26 in three games on Sunday afternoon. She improved her hitting from .036 versus Cincinnati to .313 against Louisville.
But despite the strong individual efforts from Leffers and Vokes, the two said that it took a total team effort to sweep the weekend.
"It was a really great team effort out there tonight," Vokes said after the win over Cincinnati. "We had a couple of bad games in there, but in the end we showed some real hustle, knowing that we didn't want to go into Sunday's match (with Louisville) with a loss."
Despite the overall low hitting percentage by both teams (.112 for UH and .109 for UC), the Cougars out-dueled the Bearcats in defense out-digging them 99-88.
"After we fell behind 10-0 in game three, it scared everybody into playing really good volleyball," Vokes said. "The only way we were going to get back into the match was with great defense."
With that in mind, the Cougars won games four and five (15-11 and 15-8) and carried that same stingy defense into Sunday's victory over Louisville.
On paper, the Cardinals match would have appeared to be the tougher of the two, but sweat and determination don't show up very well on paper. The Cougars used a little of both to take sole possession of first place in the C-USA standings.
"We really came together as a team this weekend," Leffers said. "Everybody had to suck it up and make sure the errors were eliminated."