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Hat trick: Stallings' sterling play leading the Owls

By Michael Byrnes and Preetham Bachina     9/22/17 12:10pm

It had been over three years since a Rice soccer player had last scored a hat trick when senior forward Nia Stallings’ third goal of the night soared past the outstretched arms of the University of Houston goalkeeper. By the time the dust had settled at the end of the week of Sept. 4 to 10, Stallings had racked up four goals and two assists in three games, earning her the Conference USA’s Offensive Player of the Week award. In Friday’s conference opener against Florida Atlantic University, she continued to add to her season totals, tallying an assist as Rice notched a 6-2 victory.

While her performance this year has certainly impressed, this is nothing too out of the ordinary for Stallings. She’s been one of the Owls’ top contributors over the past few seasons, ranking first on the team and seventh in the conference in points last year. Still, this year, Stallings has been even better: With nine games left in the regular season, she’s already up to 12 points, fourth in C-USA. She credits her teammates for helping her achieve these new heights.

“I owe it all to the team,” Stallings said. “We’ve been working on finishing and executing, and it’s all coming together for us now.”

Off the field, Stallings is just as active as she is on it. Majoring in mathematics, she’s been on C-USA’s Academic Honor Roll the past three years and hopes to incorporate both her academic and athletic prowess into her future career.

“I want to go on an analytics route,” Stallings said. “It would be cool to have a sports analytics career, or maybe retail analytics: [to] work for Adidas or Nike.”

Despite being pursued by other top-tier schools, including some Ivy League suitors, Stallings ultimately ended up choosing Rice. According to her, the blend of academics and Division I sports at Rice was just right.

“[Rice] encompassed everything I [wanted],” Stallings said. “When I came on my official visit, I loved the campus; I loved the coaches [and] the team and was just excited to be here.”

Although it may be unthinkable now, Stallings’ first choice of sport was actually gymnastics, not soccer.

“My mom and my older sister were both gymnasts, so I obviously wanted to try that route, [but] I did not have the discipline and the flexibility to be a gymnast,” Stallings said. “So I tried soccer, and I was surprisingly good at it for a five-year-old, so I stuck with it and I loved it.”

After over 15 years of playing the sport, Stallings has developed a pregame routine.

“We have a pregame meal, and then usually I take like an hour[-long] nap,” Stallings said. “Then I just listen to my favorite music until the game, and that usually gets me in the zone.”

In her free time, Stallings is no different from the rest of us: Her favorite pastime is being with her friends.

“I have such a fun and close-knit friend group here,” Stallings said. “We’re constantly together, and that just makes life easier.”

Even in light of all her accomplishments, Stallings continues to attribute her success to the opportunities created by her teammates.

“If you get so many chances [to score], eventually some are going to go in,” Stallings said. “We get 24 shots a game: Eventually you just have to put them away.”

And there’s been nobody better at putting them away this year than Stallings herself.

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