Senior defender Jasmine Isokpunwu played in all but one of the Rice soccer team’s games last season, totaling 1,754 minutes over a span of 19 games, all as a starter. In a sport like college soccer, namely one that takes a tremendous physical toll on the body, those numbers are uncommon. Isokpunwu held the team-high in both minutes and starts, and she did so while coming off an injury-plagued junior campaign during which she saw just 34 minutes of action.

A native of Austin, Texas and a member of Brown College, Isokpunwu got off to a fast start to her college career back in the fall of 2012. Leading all Rice freshmen in playing time, she earned Conference USA All-Freshman honors while starting 20 games at either defense or midfield. The following year, during her sophomore campaign, she added three goals to her stat sheet and started in all 17 games for the Owls, running her total up to 37 starts out of a possible 38 games for the Owls.

Things seemed to be progressing as planned through the first half of her soccer career, but a sudden Achilles injury and later ankle injury quickly changed that. According to Isokpunwu, missing time during her junior season was frustrating.

“It was one of those [situations] where I mentally and emotionally wanted to play but physically couldn’t play at 60 to 70 percent while everybody was giving 110 percent,” Isokpunwu said.

Isokpunwu worked to get back on the field last season, making all 19 starts in the 2015 campaign while tallying two more goals and playing nearly every minute. The determination to return as a top form defender paid off as she received Preseason Conference USA Co-Defensive Player of the Year honors for the 2016 campaign, an award she said she did not expect.

“It was a definitely a surprise and a big honor because it’s a testament to the hard work needed to get back to form.” Isokpunwu said. “This year I aim to try to do the best I can to put my name on the stats and to personally solidify what I did last year and look ahead of me.”

Following a season-opening loss to No. 8 Texas A&M on the road, Rice bounced back in its home opener against Houston Baptist University with a 2-1 victory. According to Isokpunwu, the win against Houston Baptist was a vital one.

“Coming off A&M, that HBU game was a must win, no doubt about that,” Isokpunwu said. “When we were tied with HBU late in the second half, we thought ‘This cannot be happening.’ [We] turned it up a notch and that is how we were able to rise to the occasion with the second goal late in the match.”

The Owls currently sit at 1-1 on the season, and they have two home matches coming up this weekend against Samford University and Sam Houston State University. The Owls’ conference schedule begins against the defending Conference USA champion, the University of North Texas, on Sept. 18. Isokpunwu said that winning the conference title is part of her dream for her senior season.

“We want a conference championship [and] NCAA second round at least,” Isokpunwu said. “It’s a pride thing to go undefeated at home; we want no losses at home.”

As for the team, the senior said this year’s squad has some of the best chemistry of any group in her five-year career.

“Out of all the teams I’ve been on, this one has the best camaraderie,” Isokpunwu said. “I can look to the player to my left and to my right and get energy from them to push myself. I know that we are a good team this year; we just have to go out and show it.”