The 2016 season is officially underway for the Rice Owls women's soccer team. Rice is returning seven of 11 starters from the 2015 squad and is welcoming six freshmen. Although the Owls lost key members of the squad, including midfielder Danielle Spriggs (Wiess ’16), goalkeeper Zoe Pochobradsky (Brown ’16) and forwards Holly Hargreaves (Wiess ’16) and Lauren Hughes (Will Rice ’16), the Conference USA media picked them to finish second in the conference this season.
Entering her sixth season, head coach Nicky Adams has a 57-37-19 overall record and has led the Owls to two conference championships. In addition, the Owls have a newly renovated stadium to call home. The $2.2 million project funded an entirely new grandstand capable of seating 1,100 people. The project also made renovations to the press box and made way for an accompanying soccer complex fully equipped with new locker rooms, a weight and training facility and larger restrooms.
Last Friday, the Owls were scheduled to face Southern Methodist University on the road in their season opener. Severe rain storms, however, caused the game to be cancelled. With this game scratched, Rice looked ahead to the new season opener played on Sunday at Texas A&M University. The Aggies, ranked No. 8 in the nation, were coming off a narrow 1-0 defeat to the No. 1 team in college soccer, Florida State University.
Rice managed to get on the scoreboard first. In the 21st minute of play, junior midfielder Aliza Wolfe brought down a cross from the far left side of the field served up by fellow junior midfielder Nia Stallings. With little time to react, Wolfe fired a shot toward goal with just enough finesse to hit the upper left corner of the net and give Rice a 1-0 advantage. The Aggies, however, tied the game just before halftime on a free kick to even the game at one.
In the second half, the Aggies added a second goal via a penalty kick in the 55th minute of the match. Late in the match, Rice had another golden opportunity in front of the A&M goal. Senior defender Jenny Fichera danced around on the right side of the field and freed herself of the defender. Fichera served a bending ball right into the six-yard box for an awaiting Walker who fired it at goal but it took two deflections and narrowly sailed over the right side of the goal for a corner kick. Late in the game, the Owls conceded two more goals that made the scoreline look more one-sided than the match actually was. A&M went on to win by a final score of 4-1.
There were multiple bright spots for the Owls in the game. Senior defenders Jasmine Isokpunwu and Jenny Fichera played all 90 minutes for Rice. In the midfield, the combination of Stallings and junior Samantha Chaiken was dangerous at times and aided by the play of two fellow midfield freshman, Lianne Mananquil and Erin Mikeska. Wolfe scored the game’s only goal for Rice, and the third freshman in the starting lineup, goalkeeper Maya Hoyer, had an impressive college soccer debut with eight saves.
According to Wolfe, Rice stepped up to the challenge and showed up ready to play against the Aggies.
"I think that as a team, collectively, we just wanted to show up and play the best we can,” Wolfe said. “We had a lot of heart behind this game. At the start we were dictating the play, we had most of the possession and unfortunately we let off a bit.”
Adams said she was proud of the team's effort but disappointed in the defending of set pieces; however, she knows the team will continue to improve moving forward.
"It's always hard to lose on set pieces,” Adams said. “And the next two goals in the second half were set pieces and that's like a dagger in the heart. But the good news is it’s the first game of the season and we had the opportunity to start off the season against the No. 8 team in the nation and see how we match up. We're going to continue to get better."
The Owls are back in action on Friday, Aug. 26 against Houston Baptist University. Rice will only play in one match this weekend which also serves as the 2016 home opener.