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Soccer shoots for successful AAC season debut

By Kathleen Ortiz     8/30/23 12:27am

As Rice looks to soar to new heights with its introduction to the American Athletic Conference, the Rice soccer team has spent its offseason preparing for a season filled with unfamiliar beginnings.

The Owls hope to build on last year’s disappointing loss in the first round of the Conference USA tournament with a more successful upcoming season. However, the squad knows that this is no easy task — the team now has so many new faces, with much talent graduated and new players added. Senior midfielder Catarina Albuquerque is taking all of this in stride and says the team is putting in extra work to achieve their goals. 

“Just like everything new, transitioning to the AAC is going to be a challenge,” Albuquerque said. “However, we are all embracing that new challenge by working harder in practices and in games to improve as a team every day.”

The task at hand was reflected through the 2023 AAC preseason polls, where the Owls were tabbed to finish fourth in the conference’s West division despite an undefeated 2022 season in C-USA. Albuquerque believes that the team can achieve their goals if they continue to work hard. 

“We focus a lot on ‘controlling the controllables,’ and one thing that comes under this is work ethic,” Albuquerque said. “Therefore, by constantly pushing ourselves individually, we will collectively succeed in this new conference.”

Beyond the team ranking, three individual players were named on the 2023 AAC Women's Soccer Watch List. One was Albuquerque, along with two midfielder teammates: senior Mikala Furuto and graduate transfer Sarah Piper.

Piper is a new addition to the team, transferring to Rice after playing at Duke University for four years. Piper helped Duke make it to the second round of the NCAA Championship in 2019 and the quarterfinals of the tournament in 2021 and 2022. 

“I truly feel like I can call Durham a second home of mine, but it has been such a blessing getting to end my playing career in the place I first found my love for the game,” said Piper, who grew up in the Houston area. “Coming from a highly academic university like Duke, Rice seemed like a great fit for the career path I wanted to pursue.”

According to Piper, the team culture and coaching staff were the main differences between the Duke and Rice soccer programs.

“It’s been such a blessing already to get to experience another soccer program,” Piper said. “I’ve gotten the opportunity to see college soccer as more than just my four years at Duke, and [that] truly speaks to the diversity of many [Division 1] soccer programs around the country.”

There have also been eight freshmen additions to the program this season. Albuquerque said her main role in this transition is to set a good example for the new players, just as the seniors before her did.

“Every year we have new faces, but one thing that stays constant are our team values,” Albuquerque said. “[My embodiment of the team values] will hopefully show our new players what it means to ‘play for Rice’ and ultimately help them reach their full potential in their four years here.”

The Owls’ record stands at 2-2 after back-to-back wins against Texas Southern University (5-2) and Northwestern State University (2-1). Rice lost its first two games of the season, 2-0 to the University of Incarnate Word and 6-0 to the No. 15 University of Texas.

Rice will host the University of Houston Aug. 31 for the Owls’ first home game of the season.

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