Rice soccer’s offense picked up where it left off in last week’s 4-1 win, scoring six goals over a span of two games this weekend to split its road contests. The Owls fell to No. 18 University of Memphis with a 3-1 loss before rebounding with a 5-2 thrashing of the University of Tulsa on Sunday. Rice now heads into the conference season with a record of 3-2-1.
Friday’s game at the University of Memphis was the Owls’ first opportunity to face a top-25 team this year. According to Head Coach Nicky Adams, the team embraced the challenge.
“It’s always good to go up against a ranked team,” Adams said. “We want our program to be a top-25 program too, so we have to show we can play well against a team like Memphis.”
The former Conference USA rivals remained deadlocked throughout most of the first half. There were some opportunities for both sides, but neither could capitalize. In the 42nd minute, however, the Tigers broke through. Junior forward Marie Levasseur took a shot from long range that snuck in past the keeper to put Memphis up 1-0. Adams said the goal was frustrating for Rice.
“It’s always disappointing to give up a goal just before the half like that,” Adams said.
The Tigers doubled their lead shortly after the halftime break. In the 48th minute, less than three minutes after play resumed, junior midfielder Elizabeth Woerner scored off an assist from Levasseur to net her fifth goal of the season. The 2-0 Memphis lead held until the 88th minute when the Tigers scored again to make it 3-0. Rice freshman midfielder Ashley Burgess then scored her first career goal in the closing seconds to make it a 3-1 final.
According to Adams, the Owls could have come away from the match with a different result.
“Opportunities we were given, we didn’t take advantage of,” Adams said. “I thought we had three legit opportunities that we could have put away. It seems like we’re scoring hard goals but we’re not finishing the easy ones. Until we do that, we’re making it pretty difficult [for] ourselves.”
Rice had to make a quick turnaround to face off against Tulsa on Sunday. The Owls made just one lineup change, putting in sophomore forward Haley Kostyshyn over junior forward Marissa Topolski. Rice began the game by scoring its fastest goal of the season when sophomore defender Louise Stephens scored her second goal of the year in the first minute of the match. Junior midfielder Annie Walker doubled the Owls’ lead with her first goal of the year just five minutes later to make it 2-0. Walker said the goal was just what she needed.
“I’m really happy I scored,” Walker said. “Hopefully it opens up the floodgates. It definitely takes the pressure off; I’m happy to get the first one out of the way.”
Tulsa did not go quietly, however. The Golden Hurricane scored consecutive goals in the 19th and 23rd minutes to tie the game 2-2. Senior defender Samantha Chaiken said it was disappointing to allow Tulsa back into the game.
“We didn’t play as well as we wanted to,” Chaiken said. “Ideally we wouldn’t have gotten two goals scored on us. We’re always looking ahead and wanting to make ourselves better so we were hoping for the shutout.”
The game did not remain tied for long. Senior defender Aliza Wolfe netted her first goal of the season to give Rice the lead for good in the 34th minute. Two Owls, senior midfielder Nia Stallings and freshman midfielder Rebecca Keane, scored early in the second half to clinch the win. In all, five different Owls scored, which Chaiken said was a testament to the team’s chemistry.
“It says a lot about our team and a lot about the positions we’re able to put each other in,” Chaiken said. “I’m really proud of the five girls.”
Walker said the win was important for the team moving forward.
“It was really nice to get a win under our belts this weekend and to go into next game against [Florida Atlantic University] with a win,” Walker said.
Rice will begin conference play Friday against FAU. Last year, Rice finished second in the regular season conference standings but lost in the first round of the postseason tournament. Adams said she thinks this year can be different.
“The seniors on this team started their Rice careers with a conference championship and I think they want to finish it that way too,” Adams said.
The Owls begin their quest for the title Friday night at 7 p.m. at Holloway Field against FAU.