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From breaking assist records to scoring game-winning goals and, last week, earning the United Soccer Coaches national player of the week honors, graduate forward Grace Collins has been all over the pitch and the papers this season, helping the Rice soccer team clinch the Conference-USA regular season title. Despite the graduate transfer’s outstanding season, it came close to not happening after the end of last year.
After winning just two of their eight non-conference games to start the year, the Rice soccer team has won all seven of their games in conference play, allowing just two goals in the process. Over the weekend, the squad defeated the University of Texas at El Paso 2-0 at home and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte 1-0 on the road, with all three goals being scored by graduate transfer forward Grace Collins. While leading the team in both goals and assists this season, Collins attributed the Owls’ conference success to head coach Brian Lee and his emphasis on unnoticed details in each game.
Although Rice soccer is coming off three straight wins to start conference play, their struggles early in the season are notable enough to cast doubts. While the Owls went up against and lost to some of the best teams in the NCAA, such as No. 8 Florida State University and No. 23 Southern Methodist University, they also struggled against much weaker opponents such as Samford University and Loyola University Maryland. Formation changes and familiarity with the system seem to be having a positive impact on the quality of play at the start of conference play, but will it be enough to guide them past the Conference-USA and toward the NCAA Tournament glory seen less than two years ago?
The Rice soccer team ended non-conference play with a bang. That is, they were blown away by last season’s national champions, Florida State University, in a firm 5-0 loss in front of the home crowd. The game marked the end of the team’s non-conference matches, which saw them finish with a 2-6 record and a three game losing streak. Head coach Brian Lee, however, emphasized that their expectations have not changed from the beginning of the season.
Airfare was kept to a minimum over the weekend, as the Rice soccer team played a pair of games against crosstown rivals. The Owls got their second win of the season last Thursday when they beat Houston Baptist University 1-0. On Sunday, the Owls fell to the University of Houston 3-1, in a match that should henceforth be referred to as the ‘Bayou Cup.’ According to head coach Brian Lee, the year is still young, and he’s enjoyed seeing newer players step up when they’ve been called on.
It took just 29 minutes for Grace Collins to make Rice history on Sunday night. The graduate transfer who joined the Owls from Texas Christian University dished out a whopping four first-half assists, before adding one more in the second half to set a conference record as the Owls beat the University of the Incarnate Word 5-2 for their first win of the season.
The Rice soccer team walked into last year with mountain-high expectations. After entering the season ranked No. 22 in the country, fresh off of a Sweet 16 appearance the season before, the team was disappointed to finish their year in the first round of the C-USA tournament. But according to senior goalkeeper Bella Killgore, despite a frustrating end to last season, hopes are high within the team as they look to use last year’s struggles as motivation during this season.
Editor’s Note: This is a guest opinion that has been submitted by a member of the Rice community. The views expressed in this opinion are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Thresher or its editorial board. All guest opinions are fact-checked and edited for clarity and conciseness by Thresher editors.