Rice soccer appears to be on a mission to abolish 0-0 draws. Four games into the 2016 soccer season, the Owls have scored 11 goals on their way to a 2-1-1 record. Amid the wild start to the year, the one thing that has been constant is the Rice attack, which has scored first in each of its four matches this season.
The opponents have been diverse, ranging from national power Texas A&M University to Southern Conference contender Samford University to long-time rival Sam Houston State University. In the A&M game, the Owls got on the board first in a hostile road environment. Junior midfielder Aliza Wolfe got the scoring started in that contest and there were moments where the offense shined but it was clear more game speed experience was needed. One week later, the Owls put up two more goals in a victory over Houston Baptist University. In that contest, Wolfe scored once again to start things off and junior defender Mary Claire Danilevics scored her first career goal in the 86th minute of the match to seal the game.
In each of those contests, the Owls had numerous chances that they were unable to convert into goals. Their fortunes, however, changed this past weekend when the offense scored eight goals in two games.
Samford and Rice battled to a 3-3 tie in the first game hosted by Rice this weekend. Senior defender Jasmine Isokpunwu put the Owls on the board first with a header in the 18th minute. However, Samford went on to score three unanswered goals to take a 3-1 advantage. Rice didn’t let up and got the second goal from freshman midfielder Lianne Mananquil for her first career goal. The equalizer came in the 72nd minute of the match when junior forward Nia Stallings capitalized on a goalkeeper blunder to hammer the ball into the net.
Head coach Nicky Adams said the match was entertaining in large part because of the number of goals scored.
“I think it was definitely a crowd pleaser,” Adams said. “Six goals for the fans, that’s always fun to watch.”
While the 3-3 thriller was enjoyable, it didn’t compare to the Sunday night victory over Sam Houston State. In that match, the Owls scored five goals and dominated nearly the entire match. The offense took 20 shots on the night, with ten of those shots being on goal.
An own goal got the scoring started for Rice in the 36th minute of the match. Junior forward Jessica Johnston scored an unassisted goal just before the end of the first half to give Rice the 2-0 advantage.
Johnston was used primarily as a defender in the back line for her previous two years at Rice. This year, though, she is now involved in the Owls’ attack. According to Johnston, she is enjoying her new position.
“For all of high school, I played outside [midfielder] so it’s what I’m used to which is fun,” Johnston said. “It’s an exciting [change] and I like to attack so it’s been good.”
Rice tacked on three more goals in the second half. Freshman midfielder Erin Mikeska scored her first career goal in the 68th minute of the match. Team captain and junior midfielder Samantha Chaiken got her first goal of 2016 off a corner kick for Rice’s fourth tally of the game. The final goal came in a similar fashion, knocked in by freshman midfielder/defender Allie Gonzales.
The interchanging of attack-minded players is something Rice has found successful four games into the year. Players such as sophomore Dom Mazero, sophomore Annie Walker and sophomore Marissa Topolksi are all forwards or midfielders who play different styles of soccer but all remain attack-oriented and focused on getting shots on goal.
Another midfielder, senior Ruth Seleznick, said that the offensive unit meshes well thanks to its concerted effort to work to maintain possession.
“In soccer, it all comes down to who [can control] the momentum and who is doing the little things,” Seleznick said. “[You] have to win the 50-50 [balls], win the big tackles and know that when [you] are on the field, everybody is fighting for each other. Once [you] realize that, it starts to click and the energy [remains] really high.”
The Owls will hope the offense continues its strong play this weekend when they head to Tulsa to take on the University of Memphis and the University of Tulsa. After those road games, Rice will return home to begin its conference schedule against the defending champion, the University of North Texas.