The Fifth Lap
I was late to the last Rice women's soccer game of the regular season at the University of Houston last Friday. Very late, actually.
I had planned to go to the whole game, in which Rice had not only bragging rights on the line, but also a chance to secure a share of the C-USA regular season title. Other responsibilities arose, however, and I found myself at Rice a little after 8 p.m., realizing that by the time I made it to the game, there would only be about 20 minutes left. I started to turn for home but reconsidered and instead made a left down Main Street toward Robertson Stadium.
I am incredibly glad I did. It was worth it to get to see this Rice
women's soccer team play in person one more time.
Not only has this team been very good (its finish tied atop the C-USA standings was its best since joining the league in 2005), it has also been compelling.
To begin with, the team plays exciting soccer. It mixes a great balance of veteran experience with new talent. It creates lots of scoring chances (although admittedly a crude and sometimes misleading measure, the team averaged over 16 shots a game). It possesses the ball, involving players from all positions on any given attack and rarely lapsing into a kick-and-run offense. It is willing to challenge defenders one-on-one but does so strategically, not selfishly. It plays tough, confident defense. And it has consistently great goalkeeping.
Secondly, this team has worked hard to engage the Rice community, especially the student body, making a concerted effort to share its special season with all of us. This included everything from promoting at the colleges, driving around the Inner Loop
with horns and banners during lunch before Friday night games, creating Facebook events and even recording its own promotional music videos (search "Rice Soccer" on YouTube if you missed them).
One of the best parts about walking into Robertson Stadium at UH last Friday night was entering into a sizable and energetic Rice contingent of fans. There were college groups, friend groups, other varsity sport athletes and various Rice supporters.
These fans did not only trek across town because of the game's significance but also because the team had included them in the excitement all season. When it comes to fan engagement, this team set the bar for the rest of the varsity teams on campus.
Finally, this year's team represented an inspiring and much-deserved ending to the journey of this senior class.
Three years ago, the team played Houston not with a league championship at stake, but instead to secure a ninth-place finish. The next season, 2010, the program's founding coach Chris Huston left mid-sea-
son, one game away from the start of conference play.
At many schools, that series of events would have set the program back for years. Instead, this year's senior class is finishing its final regular season atop the conference table.
Whether it's Lauren LaGro anchoring the defense, Amy Beger leading in transition, Julia Barrow controlling the midfield and giving the team shape, Alex Burton providing change of pace at forward or the amazingly contagious energy of Andie Obermeyer, these seniors have been instrumental in this season's success. Their play and their leadership have allowed the young talent around them to grow and shine.
When the final whistle blew last Friday night at a cold, windy Robertson Stadium, it was hard not to just stand and smile. Those last 20 minutes had drama, great moments, and gritty plays. But most of all, they featured a special team completing a special accomplishment.
I am incredibly glad I was there.
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