The Rice University soccer team has not lost since September. Following a 1-2 start in Conference USA, the Owls had every right to be discouraged. However, as head coach Nicky Adams and multiple players will tell you, they have turned those early season frustrations into the motivating force behind the longest win streak a Rice soccer team has ever seen. With a school record seventh consecutive win on Sunday night versus Florida Atlantic University, Rice clinched the No. 2 seed in the upcoming Conference USA tournament and will face the No. 7 seed, the University of Texas, El Paso, on Wednesday, Nov. 2 in Charlotte, North Carolina in the opening round of the 2016 C-USA Women’s Soccer Championship.
The two teams met back on Oct. 9 at El Paso, with Rice coming away with a 3-0 victory. The Owls dictated the pace with a 13-4 shot advantage in the first half and a 5-0 corner kick advantage. They received goals from junior forward Nia Stallings as well as the sophomore duo of Marissa Topolski and Annie Walker. Since that match, Rice has outscored its opponents 7-1 and is undefeated.
Rice comes into the tournament as one of the favorites. One of the sparks on the team as of late has been sophomore forward Annie Walker. Walker scored the game-winning golden goal against FAU in the 97 minutes to extend the Owls’ winning streak to seven games. She said the match against FAU meant a lot to the team going forward.
“We were not only able to keep up but to play calm and confident especially when it got to overtime,” Walker said. “Those are the games that we play for and it’s nice to go into the conference tourney with the morale really high.”
Junior midfielder Samantha Chaiken, a captain for this 2016 squad, said her team is unified in its quest for a conference championship.
“We are really driven and so ready for this both physically and mentally, and the end goal is, [of course] to win a conference championship,” Chaiken said. “Right now, the whole team is clicking and we are finding a way to win and that is something we are really excited about going into the conference tournament.”
The Owls will head to Charlotte with an undefeated record at the tournament’s host site. Since the University of North Carolina, Charlotte joined Conference USA, Rice is 4-0 on the road against the 49ers.
Adams has some good feelings heading into this conference championship for a few reasons. She said the team should have all the momentum it needs entering the tournament.
“The whole point of getting to the C-USA tournament is its new life for some teams, [but] this team is playing spectacular,” Adams said. “I really like our odds this year.”
Since a loss to Western Kentucky University at the end of September, Rice has not been defeated. Adams said this game was a turning point in Rice’s season.
“I haven’t seen a team truly devastated like what I saw after Western Kentucky,” Adams said. “It was like that from that point forward, this team pretty much promised each other that we aren’t [going to] lose.”
The Owls last won the conference title in 2014. Last year, the University of North Texas won the championship. Rice and the Mean Green are the top two seeds in this year’s tournament and could be primed for a showdown for the conference championship if both teams advance far enough in the tournament.
Adams said she believes the Owls have a chance to win it all.
“[In] watching our momentum and how determined this team is, we don’t want to get to Charlotte just to show up,” Adams said. “We want to hold up a trophy the end of the week. We are ready to go. We are hungry for this.”