In the 57th minute of the game, senior midfielder Nia Stallings had zero goals this season. Eight minutes later, she had three. Stallings’ second-half hat trick broke a 1-1 tie and led Rice soccer to a 4-1 win over crosstown rival University of Houston. The Owls are now 2-1-1 on the season.
"It’s an unreal feeling being able to score three in one game."
Stallings said she was still in shock about the hat trick after the game.
“It’s cool,” Stallings said. “It all happened so fast, so it was just a rush of adrenaline. But it’s an unreal feeling being able to score three in one game. That rarely happens.”
The game did not look promising at the start for the Owls. Rice outshot the Cougars 7-2 in the early going but allowed the first goal. In the 19th minute, the Owls’ defense had a lapse and allowed a cross to fall straight to Cougars’ midfielder Hannah Dauzat in the box. Dauzat buried the close-range shot past the goalkeeper to give UH the 1-0 lead. Rice barely avoided disaster just minutes later when a defender committed a hard tackle in the box against a Cougars’ forward, but the referee did not give UH a penalty shot. According to head coach Nicky Adams, it was frustrating to trail so early in the game.
“It’s tough,” Adams said. “You have tons of opportunities in the final third and you’re not putting them away. But [junior forward Marissa Topolski] kept fighting. She found a way to get us back in the game.”
Indeed, Topolski managed to even the score less than 10 minutes later with a highlight-reel finish. She took a pass from senior defender Mallory Radtke, then dribbled to the center of the field on the edge of the box and fired a looping shot that just cleared the goalkeeper’s outstretched arm and settled in the back of the net. Topolski said the goal was a product of a great deal of first-half effort.
“I was frustrated when I didn’t shoot it [right away] because I had missed a couple easy shots in the beginning,” Topolski said. “I’ve been working on that shot all week because I figured I wouldn’t get a lot of breakaways against this team. So I basically just shot it and prayed.”
The score remained level at halftime despite Rice’s 13-4 advantage in shots. Then, Stallings took over. She scored her first goal off a scramble in the box in the 58th minute to give Rice its first lead of the game. Her second came early in the 65th minute off a pinpoint cross from Topolski. Her third came later in the same minute off a rebound from a goalkeeper gaffe. In a span of eight minutes, the game went from 1-1 to 4-1 thanks to Stallings. Asked if she had ever scored two goals in a minute, she laughed.
“No, I haven’t ever done that before,” she said.
Adams praised Stallings’ performance on defense as well.
“What I loved about her tonight was her fight defensively,” Adams said. “I thought she was all over the place and in the end, she got goals for it. Both sides of the ball she was fantastic. Definitely player of the match.”
The game was the first athletic event Rice hosted since Hurricane Harvey. Rice made it a Houston benefit game, meaning all ticket proceeds went directly to the United Way charity for Harvey victims. According to Adams, it was wonderful to see Houstonians come together for the match.
“It’s important for us to realize how great Houstonians are,” Adams said. “They came not just to support both teams but for a great cause as well.”
Rice next plays two former Conference USA rivals on the road in Memphis, Tennessee this weekend. The Owls face the University of Memphis, which has a record of 5-0-0, on Friday night. Then, they play the University of Tulsa, which has a record of 1-4-1, on Sunday.