Rice’s reigning Conference USA-champion soccer team suffered a tough loss on Friday night against in-state rival University of Texas, Austin. The stands were packed at Holloway Field as the end of Orientation Week brought in many new students to watch the Owls in their season opener. The visiting Longhorns were set to be a stern test for the Owls, opening the season as the No. 17-ranked team in the country. Rice, meanwhile, was not at full strength for the game, with regular starters senior Dominique Mazero and junior Louise Stephens out with injuries.
From the very start of the game, Texas threw players forward and pressured Rice. By doing so, the Longhorns were able to create a few chances within the first six minutes, two of which were shots on goal saved by junior goalkeeper Maya Hoyer. By fending off the early Texas pressure, Rice was able to counterattack. In the 10th minute, senior forward Marissa Topolski struck a shot from the right side of the field that would have beaten the Texas goalkeeper, but it clanked hard off the post.
“It’s kind of rough when you hit the post,” Topolski said. “At the same time, it showed that we were getting opportunities.”
For the next 20 minutes of the game, the Owls struggled to retain possession of the ball. After two more saves by Hoyer, Texas was able to take the lead with junior Cyera Hintzen scoring an unassisted goal for the Longhorns. In the 37th minute of the game, the Owls hit the post once more, off a shot from freshman Caleigh Boeckx.
“Those are momentum changers,” Rice head coach Nicky Adams said. “[If] we put those in, that’s going give us more momentum and the game changes.”
Within a minute, Texas was able to double its lead. A Rice foul led to a penalty kick for the Longhorns, which senior Katie Glenn converted after sending Hoyer the wrong way.
The second half was a more even affair than the first, with both teams taking six shots in the period, in part because Texas did not need to be as offensively-oriented with a two-goal advantage. But according to Boeckx, Rice came out of halftime with an aggressive mindset.
“We tried to go [into the second half] with the mentality that this is our house and this is our game,” Boeckx said. “Physicality was definitely an aspect that we wanted to bring into the game.”
Rice had plenty of opportunities in the second half, registering three shots on goal in the period. The Owls played lots of through balls, but their passes were not quite connecting.
“We have to pick our moments of when we’re going to hit the through ball and when we’re going to hit the person checking,” Topolski said. “More opportunities to play in games will fix that.”
Texas closed out Rice by scoring a third goal in the 87th minute. In total, the Owls had seven fewer shots on goal and had six fewer corners for the game, and Hoyer ended up with seven saves on the night. But according to Adams, this loss won’t define the season.
“[Texas is] No. 17 in the nation for a reason,” Adams said. “We have a really young team. We’re going to have some growing pains this year, but some of the things we did tonight were completely uncharacteristic of our team.”
The Owls next opponent is a home game against Southern Methodist University on Thursday night at 7 p.m.
“SMU is going to be a really well-organized team, so decision-making on when and how we are going to go forward has to improve,” Adams said.