If the fans of Owls soccer could take any solace in the team's lackluster performance over the last four games leading up to Oct. 21, it was that the team's final three matches were against three of the five worst teams in Conference USA. Surely this reprieve from the top teams in C-USA would allow Rice to se cure a bid in the postseason conference tour nament and perhaps a top-four seed. But un like conventional wisdom, which would have seen the Owls dominate the first two of those three matches, Rice lost both, first to East Carolina University (9-6-1, 4-5-0 C-USA) by a score of 3-1, and then to Marshall University (4-11-3, 2-6-2 C-USA) in a 1-0 shutout.

The match against East Carolina began much like the team's previous match against the University of Southern Mississippi, with Rice scoring very early on, as freshman de fender Lauren Busansky rifled a 30-yard shot into the back of the net just five minutes into the game. Through the first 20 minutes of the game, it appeared as if Rice would be able to hold off the Pirate attack. But the 7-2 shot ad vantage ECU enjoyed in the first half finally came to fruition in the 23rd minute, with Kimmy Cummings taking a pass from Mad die Maurer and shooting it near the lower-left corner of the goal, just out of the reach of freshman goalkeeper Amy Czyz. Four more shots were fired by the Pirates in the first half, with Czyz saving one, while another hit the crossbar. Needless to say, the Owls real ized that the ninth-place Pirates were a force to be reckoned with by the time the whistle blew to end the first half.

Head Coach Nicky Adams apparently gave Rice a meaningful halftime talk, as freshman forward Quinney Truong and sophomore for ward Jessica Howard fired one shot apiece just five minutes into the second half. Two more shots by junior defender Lauren LaGro and freshman midfielder Gabriela Iribarne could not find the mark either, as the Owls' offensive barrage was continued to try and break the tie. But just two minutes after Irib arne's shot failed to connect, ECU's Amanda Malkiewicz took a pass from Chrissy Gratz and gave the Pirates their first lead of the season. With Rice tiring, Adams made a flur ry of subsitutions, pulling four players to get some fresh legs on the pitch. Two more shots by the Owls went wide, but once again, ECU was much more accurate in its shot selection as Cummings scored again on the team's first shot since Malkiewicz's goal. But by now, with under 15 minutes left in the match, the fight had left the Owls, as they could not find another scoring opportunity for the remain der of the match and fell 3-1. Adams spoke about the disappointing outcome that has be come common for the team as of late.

"Lauren [Busansky] played really well," said Adams. "The first 20 minutes were fan tastic. We were creating a rhythm and playing Rice soccer. It was another game where we were able to come out and execute our game plan and score really early, but we are hav ing a hard time protecting our lead. We got a great goal and had a lot of momentum, but all of a sudden we make a couple of mistakes, and ECU was back in it."

The team had no time to dwell on the loss, as it hopped on a plane the next day to fly to Huntington, W.Va. to face Marshall, a team that had won just one conference match all season. Surely another opportunity to clinch a berth in the conference tournament wouldn't pass the Owls by.

 But the Thundering Herd looked like any thing but a team that had won three matches to date, tallying four shots in the first 15 min utes to keep Czyz busy. Seven more shots fol lowed from Marshall in the next 20 minutes as the Owls looked completely outmatched on offense. Finally, in the 39th minute, Mar shall's Angela DeSumma found a way past Czyz, who had already made six saves, to put the Thundering Herd up 1-0. The first half was over momentarily, with Marshall shoot ing 13 times compared to Rice's three.

The second half was the polar opposite of the first, with the Owls charging out of the locker room, attacking the Marshall goal with five shots in the first 15 minutes. But like the ECU match, the offense disappeared in the last 15 minutes of the match, dooming the Owls to a 1-0 loss and sending them home with zero points from a two-match road trip.

Adams was anything but pleased with the team's play this weekend.

"We did not execute our game plan today, and I am very disappointed in our results this weekend," said Adams. "Our expectations are much higher for this program. We can still help ourselves. Our task ahead is now very clearly defined, and we will go to work this week to play our best."

With the Owls now sporting a 1-4-1 record over their last six matches, Rice will now have one final chance tonight's match against the University of Houston (6-11-1, 3-6-1 C-USA) to improve their seeding and keep its spot in the conference tournament, which features only the top eight teams based on the final confer ence standings. Rice currently sits in seventh place and will clinch a spot with a tie or win over the Cougars, but a loss would eliminate them if East Carolina manages to tie or win one of their final two matches.