Women’s soccer rebounds from OT loss with first conference Win
The defending regular-season Conference USA champion Rice soccer team notched its first conference win on Sunday night, following a heartbreaking 3-2 home loss to Middle Tennessee State University on Thursday with a 3-1 defeat of the visiting University of Texas, San Antonio Roadrunners.
Following the loss to Middle Tennessee, head coach Nicky Adams said converting scoring opportunities into goals was the Owls’ primary weakness in the defeat and needed improvement.
“We can out-battle teams, we can out-possess, but if you don’t put the ball in the back of the net, it doesn’t matter,” Adams said.
The Owls took Adams’ message to heart in the early going against UTSA, scoring two goals in the first 17 minutes of the game. The first came via a penalty kick in the 15th minute by junior Erin Mikeska, a defensive midfielder, who, coming into the game, had not scored a goal this season and had only four previous goals to her name over the course of her Rice career. Mikeska was an unlikely choice, having taken very few in-game penalty kicks previously, but she said she was calm and ready for her moment.
“Me and the keeper actually had a little staredown [prior to the kick], and it was pretty intense, and I was just thinking in my head, ‘this is going in the back of the net, this can be a goal,’” Mikeska said.
The crowd at Holloway Field would not have to wait long to see the lead doubled, as just two minutes later, sophomore midfielder Ashley Burgess capitalized on an assist from senior forward Marissa Topolski to extend the Owls’ lead 2-0. Following these two goals, UTSA began to pursue more opportunities in the offensive end, but Rice continued its strong play defensively and in the midfield, as the Roadrunners didn’t threaten too severely despite their nine first-half shots. In the second half, however, the tide started to turn in the visitors’ favor, as the Roadrunners’ aggressive counterattack got them several opportunities in the box. UTSA striker Lexi Bolton converted on one of these opportunities in the 60th minute to make it a one-goal game again and, for the first time, put some pressure on Rice to do what it could not do against Middle Tennessee and finish strong.
The Owls responded to the challenge by playing stronger, more physical defense and taking advantage of a few UTSA mistakes to maintain their one-goal lead as the game clock dwindled toward zero. With less than three minutes to play, Topolski took the pressure off the Owls’ defense and put the game out of reach with a counterattack goal, assisted by senior defender Darcy Mickalow, that gave her team its final 3-1 lead. It was Topolski’s second goal in as many games, having also put Rice up 1-0 against Middle Tennessee, and her second of the season.
Topolski said the Owls were simply trying to run out the clock when she saw the chance to attack.
“Our gameplan at that point, with just a few minutes left, was to just get the ball in the corner and keep it, but it was such a perfect opportunity set up by Darcy, and being able to go up two goals allows us to relax,” Topolski said.
The Owls will look to preserve their momentum this coming Sunday at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, whose soccer team the Owls have not faced on the road since 2014.
More from The Rice Thresher
After earning victory in the Conference USA Championship final for the sixth time in seven years, the Rice Owls women’s tennis team is set to compete in both team and individual postseason play at the NCAA Championship.
Rice men’s basketball will experience a shakeup in both its player roster and staff next year. According to multiple anonymous sources, freshman center Quentin Millora-Brown has entered the NCAA transfer portal with intent to transfer and assistant coach Chris Kreider has left his position to join Georgia State University as an assistant coach.
Freshman tennis player Diae El Jardi began playing tennis at the age of six with her father on the clay courts in Meknes, Morocco. According to El Jardi, the rigors of daily practice fostered a bonding with her father.