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Owl’s soccer woes continue as winless streak extends into weekend

Courtesy Rice Athletics Graduate forward Ellen Halseth assisted midfielder Jordyn Mariam’s first career goal.

By Landry Wood     9/12/23 11:33pm

Rice Soccer has not won a game since August. Their four-game winless streak now includes this weekend’s 2-2 draw at Sam Houston State University and a 4-0 home loss to the Texas A&M University Aggies, dropping the Owls’ record to 2-5-1.

Last Thursday in Huntsville, the Bearkats scored more goals against Rice than they ever had before, successfully drawing a match they had lost in every previous meeting. Sam Houston took their first lead in the ninth minute, eventually crashing through the Owls’ defense after a long possession of multiple shots. Freshman midfielder Jordyn Mariam tied the game with her first career goal, assisted by graduate forward Ellen Halseth and sophomore midfielder Kallie McKinney, before the end of the half.

The Bearkats pulled ahead again on their second shot of the second half, 25 minutes in. With four minutes left, Owls’ junior forward Natalie Gorji found the back of the net on an assist from Halseth at the end of a three-shot possession to manage the draw. The Owls never once took the lead during the match, despite delivering five more shots on goal than their opponents. 

According to head coach Brian Lee, critical defensive breakdowns kept Rice struggling for parity.

“We’re just having catastrophic moments where we give up really, really easy goals,” Lee said. “We gave up two against Sam Houston and we started the game with one [against A&M]. Until we can get over that, it makes the rest of the game hard.”

The players’ shadows stretched long at kickoff Sept. 10, pointing directly into Rice’s goal as the Aggies capitalized on a defensive miscommunication and overextension by junior goalkeeper Ann Stephanie Fortin to score the first goal on the first shot of the game. The Owls’ defense stabilized for the next 40 minutes, allowing only one other shot on goal until the Aggies carved up Rice to score two minutes before the end of the first half. Graduate Hannah Pimentel would play goalkeeper after halftime substitutions.

Similar back line breaches became more frequent in the second half, with Rice allowing eight more shots on goal and two additional goals before time expired. According to junior midfielder Mikala Furuto, Rice’s defense is dealing with the effects of inexperience and unfamiliarity.

“I think one of our weaknesses on defense is just that we’re a new back line,” Furuto said. “Not many of us have played together, so we just have to build that connection and continue to improve.”

Lee echoed this, explaining that the team’s novelty has seen them repeating the same defensive errors.

“The first goal was a communication issue, the second goal was a communication issue and the third goal was a communication issue,” Lee said. “We’re just generally pretty quiet, and we’re not getting over that fast enough.”

At the same time, Rice’s offense continues to struggle to gain momentum, tallying only three goals in their last four games. They delivered just one shot on goal in the first half on a free kick from Halseth. The Aggie goalkeeper’s two other saves came in the game’s last five minutes. A&M also led on corner kicks, conceding five fewer than they took. Lee attributed these offensive struggles to the energy the Aggies brought into the press.  

“Texas A&M’s athleticism and direct play caused us issues [offensively],” Lee said. “They were willing to go straight in behind our back line before we could get a player dropped in to even the numbers. Even when we were picking the ball up, it’s a long way to go when they’re so athletic in the press.”

In 2022, the Owls went into conference play 2-6. They then won nine of their remaining 11 regular-season contests, eventually claiming the Conference USA title. According to Lee, Rice still has several unanswered questions to confront before they can hit a similar stride.

“We just gotta keep trying to figure it out,” Lee said. “We’re a third of the way through the season, and we’re still trying to figure out what the right people on the field are and in what shape and all that stuff. It’s a pretty young team, and we just haven’t been able to get them in the right spots where they can flourish.”

Lee and the Owls hope to answer these questions before the start of conference play at 7 p.m. Sept. 14 against longtime rival Southern Methodist University, whom the Owls have not defeated since 2012. The home stand will also include a game against Xavier University Sunday, Sep. 17 at 1 p.m., both being broadcast on ESPN+.

Courtesy Rice Athletics Midfielder Piper Biziorek on the field. This past weekend saw a continuation of Rice Soccer’s winless streak.

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