Twin sisters Ashley and Jessica Rice, the Long Island University women’s volleyball team’s double threat, have a chance to snatch a northeast conference crown this week — but injuries will be keeping them from playing on the court together.
Ashley tore her anterior cruciate ligament on Oct. 20 in a win over Sacred Heart. Ever since then, Jessica has been playing for both of them, the fifth-year grad student said.
“I definitely just think about her when I’m out there playing,” Jessica Rice said. “I’m playing a lot for her, too. If she can’t do it herself, I have to go out there harder every play, and play the best I can to help our team win.”
Injuries have unfortunately been a part of the middle blockers’ careers. Jessica, an All-Conference second team selection a year ago, was forced to redshirt in 2008 because of a knee injury and missed the entire 2009 season as well. Ashley, the conference tournament’s most valuable player in 2009, missed 2010 with a knee injury, but rebounded with a strong 2011 season. Their history has put Jessica in a unique position to help Ashley through her current injury.
“She’s been there and she’s the only one who knows what it’s like to miss a lot of time,” Ashley Rice said. “Everyone says, ‘You’ll be OK,’ but they don’t know the mental toughness that it takes.”
It’s a special relationship coach Kyle Robinson has noticed during their time at the school. He sees how it extends off the court in this case and in general.
“They’re connected,” Robinson said. “Even beyond volleyball stuff, they support each other and they support each other on a level they can’t understand.”
Ashley is now providing leadership on the bench as Jessica, along with standout teammates right side hitter Annika Fiot and setter Vera Djuric are leading the Blackbirds into the postseason. Long Island University remains undefeated at 16–0 and 23–7 overall heading into this weekend’s conference tournament.
The team will try to put last season’s final loss behind it when it reaches this week’s tournament.
Robinson feels this is a special group that can get it done.
“This is the best team I’ve ever coached,” Robinson said. “This is the best group of girls I’ve ever coached and had the pleasure of being with.”
Reach reporter Joseph Staszewski at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter @cng_staszewski.