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Tuesday, September 27, 2022 — Houston, TX

Emotions swing for soccer after weekend's games

By Teddy Grodek     9/17/09 7:00pm

Only in the sports world can you have your best performance one night and leave slightly disappointed, then give a sub-par performance a few days later but leave the field perfectly content. This is exactly what happened to Rice's soccer team this week. The Owls (2-4-1) suffered a demoralizing defeat Friday night against Oklahoma State University, only to rebound and experience the thrill of a Sunday afternoon victory against the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Since the schedule was first released for the fall, the soccer team knew that it was going to have a year full of challenges. Throughout the non-conference season, the ladies have been agonizingly close to knocking off that one regionally-ranked opponent, but so far have nothing to show for it, as every loss Rice has had was to a regionally-ranked opponent. The Owls intentionally made themselves an incredibly difficult schedule this year, knowing that a few wins inside the non-conference portion could lead to an at-large NCAA championship berth.

The trend, unfortunately, continued with the 19th-ranked Cowgirls (5-2-0), their fourth regionally-ranked opponent of the year. Knowing full well they would have to play to near perfection, the Owls did just that, opening up the first half with scoring opportunity after scoring opportunity. Rice dominated the ball for the final 20 minutes of the half, keeping it consistently in Oklahoma State territory. It was perhaps their best offensive showing all year - but, amazingly, they had nothing to show for it by the time the halftime whistle blew.

Fortunately, Rice's defense kept pace with the Cowboys, displaying a sharpness and cohesiveness that had been lacking in previous match-ups. The Cowgirls only got eight shots off for the game's first 45 minutes, a far cry from the 17 they've been averaging per half in their previous five games.

But a four-minute lapse at the beginning of the second half was all the time Oklahoma State would need to put the game away. In the 48th minute, Cowgirls defender Colleen Dougherty's perfectly-placed set found midfielder Annika Niemeier, who redirected the ball past goalie Meghan Erkel.

Shaken from their lethargy, the Owls once again looked sharp and motivated, but were simply unable to score the equalizing mark.

Despite it being their fourth loss in five games, midfielder Kate Edwards said the entire team was pleased with the performance.

"I think everyone was really satisfied with the heart, effort and determination, and that we didn't give up," Edwards said. "It was really hard, but I think we played so well. Oklahoma State was ranked, and we were just really happy with how we fought."

Perhaps the only downside of the ladies' performance - aside from the final score - was the continual dominance of Oklahoma State during set pieces. The Cowgirls had 10 corner kicks during the game, as opposed to the Owls' two. Head Coach Chris Huston said that while the set pieces are a concern of the coaching staff, and that they do discuss them with the team, it is difficult to go into all the individual aspects of every set play that can be run. Huston said there is more of a mindset to defend these plays than an actual strategy that can be taught in practice.

The loss was certainly a tough pill to swallow, but the Owls took to the road to find their remedy, coming in the form, fittingly, of the Roadrunners (3-4).

Sunday afternoon, the team earned a 2-0 road victory over UTSA, with goals scored by Edwards and senior forward Erin Scott. It was a particularly emotional game after the loss Friday night. Scott's score came early in the game, in the 11th minute. It was Scott's second goal of the season and the 20th in her college career, two away from breaking the all-time Rice scoring record held by Clory Martin (Brown '08) with 64. Edwards' insurance came in the 73rd minute off a pass from senior defender Stephanie Crain.

The entire team recognized the importance of the Sunday victory over UTSA after the emotional letdown of the loss to the Cowgirls. Huston said that after the defeat Friday, the women's performance was not particularly fundamentally sound, but was filled with emotion and was enough to get the job done.

With momentum back on their side, the Owls will face a crucial battle tonight at home against the University of New Mexico. The Lobos (6-0-1) have tied their school record for most consecutive matches without a loss and received votes in last week's national rankings. They are the final non-conference opponent for the Owls, and a win against them in tonight's game, which begins at 7 p.m. in the Rice Track/Soccer Stadium, would be the season's highlight thus far.

The team is hoping to use this as a rallying point to launch itself into a successful conference schedule. As opposed to playing teams that are, at least on paper, more talented than the Owls, the conference schedule promises to bring teams that will be more equal to the Owls in talent.

"I think it's really crucial that we get [tonight's] game and go on a two-game winning streak going into conference," Edwards said. "We definitely need it because conference is going to be really tough, and every game we're going to have to go out and play hard. There's not going to be an easy game. We haven't really had an easy game all season, to be honest, which is kind of a good thing and a tough thing.

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