While the remnants of Hurricane Patricia swept its way through the outskirts of Dallas, Texas, the Rice University and University of North Texas soccer teams were engaged in a Conference USA battle. In a game that saw warnings and yellow cards handed out on both sides, the Mean Green narrowly beat out Rice by a final score of 2-1.
With the defeat, the Owls slipped to fourth in the C-USA rankings with one game remaining on the schedule. Rice is currently 9-6-2 on the season (5-3-1 in C-USA) and have accumulated 16 points on the season, just two points behind second-place Florida Atlantic University. With the win, North Texas clinched the regular-season title outright for the second consecutive season.
In a game played with temperatures in the low 50s along with swirling winds, the match got off to a rough start for the visiting Owls. In just the third minute of the match, North Texas received the ball and were set for a throw-in near goal. Once the ball was thrown back in play, North Texas immediately fired a shot that found the top corner of the net for the 1-0 advantage. In the 19th minute of play, North Texas added a second goal on a long-distance shot from roughly 35 yards out for the 2-0 lead. Rice was able to regroup defensively against North Texas’ offense and would settle for a 2-0 deficit into halftime.
In the second half, the Owls came back stronger and managed to take seven shots, four of which were saved by the Mean Green goalkeeper. Rice got on the board in the 72nd minute off a goal from sophomore forward Nia Stallings. Sophomore defender Aliza Wolfe chipped a dangerous ball into the box and Stallings was right to redirect the ball into the lower left-hand corner and cut the deficit in half. It was Stallings’ third goal on the season and the seventh of her Rice career.
As Rice pushed forward, another prime opportunity for goal was in the 77th minute when senior forward Lauren Hughes drove a shot at the North Texas goalkeeper from inside the box but was prevented from scoring the equalizing goal. Rice held the North Texas offense scoreless for the last 71 minutes of the match but were unable to claim the victory.
According to Hughes, North Texas’ home field advantage had a significant impact on the game.
“Going into this game, we knew that it was really important to be focused,” Hughes said. “It was their senior night and they had a really big crowd which made it intense and fun to compete out there,” Hughes said.
With the C-USA tournament vastly approaching, a rematch with North Texas is highly likely if the Owls wish to repeat as C-USA champions. Last season Rice defeated North Texas in the final round of the tournament.
According to Hughes, Rice should be able to beat North Texas if they play them again by not falling behind so early in the match.
“There is no reason we shouldn’t beat [North Texas] if we face them again,” Hughes said. “We had our chances and we dominated the second half …if we face them again, I think that we need to come out harder at the beginning but there is no reason we shouldn’t beat them.”
The Owls have one final regular season game yet to be played against the University of Texas, San Antonio. The game is pivotal because of how close the standings are in Conference USA between teams fighting to earn a spot in the conference tournament as well as teams looking to improve their seeding. Only four points separate No. 2 ranked FAU and No. 8 ranked Western Kentucky University.
Rice also will honor their seniors on Senior Day before the UTSA matchup on Thursday night at 7 p.m. The seniors graduating this year are goalkeeper Kara Dugall, forward Lauren Hughes, defender Jasmine Isokpunwu, forward Holly Hargreaves and midfielder Danielle Spriggs.
This set of seniors have been instrumental in establishing the brand of Rice Soccer not just in Conference USA but in circles around the nation. Last season, these players were part of a team that won a record-tying 14 games on the season and posted an undefeated home record of 6-0-2. Rice also won the Conference-USA tournament championship for the first time in school history.
The opening round of C-USA Championship is set to begin on Nov. 4 in Boca Raton, FL. The seeding of the tournament is yet to be determined.