Pair of losses eliminates soccer from postseason
What do you tell a team that, after a pair of weekend defeats, now has seven 1-0 losses? What do you say to a team that was eliminated from postseason play after losing their fourth straight conference game? What do you say? What can you say?
Only women's soccer Head Coach Chris Huston knows, as she was the one struggling for both questions and answers after a weekend that left her squad in the same rut they've been in all season.
The women traveled to Southern Methodist University last Friday and then to Tulsa University on Sunday afternoon and lost both contests in heart-breaking, 1-0 fashion. Once again, the team had opportunities to put both games away, but were unable to capitalize on opponents' mistakes.
"You can see the frustration in [the players], " Huston said. "There is no way around it. They have to be frustrated at this point. We're so close to winning games. We just need to put the ball in the net."
Coming into the weekend, the Owls (2-8-2, 0-4 Conference USA) knew that they needed victories in these games to stay in contention for a possible postseason berth in the Conference USA tournament. They were optimistic about their chances because both SMU (4-6-1, 1-2-1 C-USA) and Tulsa (5-5-2, 2-2 C-USA) were in the cellar of the conference standings.
Facing the Mustangs in Dallas, the Owls fell behind early, allowing SMU midfielder Mallory Baum to fire a long shot that managed to find the corner of the net. Despite a season-high 17 shots, Rice could not capitalize, floundering or flubbing every opportunity they were given.
After being badly outshot in the first half, Rice managed to turn up the offensive ferocity in the second half, outshooting the Mustangs 14-4. However, shot totals do not win soccer games, and the Owls had their fourth loss in four games.
Two days later, the team managed to end regulation in a 0-0 tie with the Golden Hurricane, who had dropped three out of four games before playing Rice. Once again, the Owls lead Tulsa in scoring chances, with the upper hand in both corner kicks and shots.
But all it took was one play in overtime to send the Owls reeling into their fourth-consecutive conference loss. SMU forward Hannah Taylor found teammate Jennifer Kacergis, who fired the ball in from point-blank range. It was a devastating loss for the Owls, who have now lost any possibility for postseason play.
Sophomore forward Hope Ward talked about the team's plans and motivation for the rest of the year.
"We had a talk after Sunday's game, where we said we're going to come out with our heads up," Ward said. "We're going to keep working hard and try and refocus. We need to start having fun again. It's fun to win, it's fun to play well. I think we forgot what it's like to have fun playing."
The resilience of this team will be tested for the rest of the season, as they no longer can qualify for the C-USA tournament. They have seven games left on their schedule, five of them at home, and have a chance to bring their record up to .500 and regain some momentum heading into their next season.
This weekend, the Owls have two home games against C-USA powerhouses. First, the University of Alabama-Birmingham travels to Rice Track and Soccer Stadium to take on the Owls tonight at 7 p.m. The Blazers (8-4, 2-2 C-USA) are only one game behind five other squads, all of whom are leading C-USA with identical 3-1 records. This will be a critical game for the Blazers, as they look to try and extend their season into the playoffs. Last year, UAB defeated the Owls in a high-scoring game by a score of 5-2.
On Sunday afternoon, the University of Memphis will travel to Houston to take on Rice at 1 p.m. This game will contain an extra dose of excitement, as it will be taped for later television broadcast, on CSTV at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. Memphis (8-4-0, 3-1-0 C-USA) currently sits atop the conference in a five-way tie for first place and will be desperately looking for a win as they try to separate themselves from the pack on the leader board. The Tigers are defending conference champions, and want nothing more than to nab the title two years in a row.
The Owls are currently healthy, with only a few nagging injuries that are typical of the middle of the soccer season, according to Huston.
Ward commented on the new determination inside practice, the focus on working hard to turn tight contests in their favor.
"We're working really hard on shooting this week," Ward said. "The whole week is about placement, finishing and working hard off the ball so we can finish our opportunities and win games.
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