Thursday night at Holloway Field, we witnessed the end of an era. Every year in college athletics a group of seniors leave, but the five seniors leaving from the soccer team have done amazing things to solidify themselves as one of the best senior classes in Rice soccer history.
To start, this class is the only class to secure multiple conference championships. In 2012, their freshman year, they won the Conference USA regular season with eight conference wins. Then after a disappointing 2013 campaign, the team rebounded in 2014 to win the C-USA tournament and secure a berth to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005.
A great class normally needs a star player. This class does not have just one star but two. Holly Hargreaves and Lauren Hughes have been causing havoc for C-USA backlines for four years. Hargreaves and Hughes are the best scorers in Rice history; Hughes will finish her career first in goals, assists and points while Hargreaves will finish second in goals and points. They have combined for six First Team All-C-USA honors (three each), Hargreaves was named C-USA Freshman of the Year in 2012, and Hughes was named C-USA Offensive Player of the Year in 2014 and 2015.
Every superstar needs a strong supporting cast. First there is Danielle Spriggs, the outside midfielder who runs more 40-yard sprints in a game than most collegiate football players preparing for the NFL combine. Over the last two years, Spriggs has become a constant on the wing, starting every game and helping Hughes and Hargreaves put goals in the back of the net.
Next is Jasmine Isokpunwu, who has helped solidify the defense. She has played center back and center defensive mid, but she is most exciting to watch in the air. Isokpunwu is so strong in the air, winning 50-50 balls as well as using her head to redirect corners or free kicks towards the back of the net. Her play this year earned her Second Team All-C-USA honors.
Rounding out the five seniors is goalkeeper Kara Dugall. She has not started many games in her career, but has provided quality minutes in net when called upon.
However, I know for all the seniors on this team, the past does not matter. What matters is this week, the 2015 C-USA championship and defending their C-USA title. The Owls enter the tournament as the fourth seed, which means a potential semi-final match up against the University of North Texas, the first seed in the tournament, in a rematch of last year’s C-USA title match.
The two teams faced each other two weeks ago in Denton, TX on senior night, and the Owls dropped the match 2-1. Rice conceded two goals in the first 20 minutes. Afterwards, Rice calmed down and possessed the ball, however we were unable to complete passes in the offensive third and unable to put multiple quality shots on goal to test their keeper. Even in defeat, the team knows they can beat North Texas and wants a chance at revenge.
Hopefully this senior class gets at least five more games and can add another accolade to its legacy: The first ever NCAA tournament victory in school history.