BOWLING GREEN, KY -- The Rice soccer team scored three first half goals on the way to a rain-soaked 3-1 Conference USA road victory at Western Kentucky in the league-opener for both teams Friday evening in Bowling Green, Ky.
What a difference a couple weeks can make.
Only two weeks ago to the day, Rice met Dayton on a Friday night road game in a similar chilly-rainstorm. The Owls experienced a 5-2 loss in that soggy match against the Flyers, and with a bye-weekend last Friday-Sunday (Sept. 18-20) there wasn't too much of a buffer to help purge the memory of that outcome. As the rain began to fall during pregame warm-ups at Western Kentucky, Rice had every reason to think it was experiencing some Dayton déjà vu.
It was in fact similar to the Dayton match, only this time Rice turned around the déjà vu almost 180-degrees. At WKU the Owls posted three goals in the first half before closing out a 3-1 final. Rice was first to find its sea-legs in the storm, and quickly turned up the offensive pressure with a 14-3 advantage in shots in the first half.
In the 8th minute senior Lauren Hughes fired away on a close-range shot that WKU managed to save, but had dangerously bound away in the keeper's area. Senior Holly Hargreaves alertly played the carom to the back of the Hilltoper net to put Rice in front 1-0.
In the 30th minute, sophomore Aliza Wolfe threaded a pass to Hughes inside the 18 and in front of the goal. The Owls' career goal-scoring leader quickly got off one of her five first half shots to ring-up career goal No. 37 and double the margin to 2-0.
There was a lot of soccer left to be sure, but Rice had to have been feeling as well as the team looked -- playing forward, connecting on passes and creating offensive chances. There was also the little matter that since the duo of Hughes and Hargreaves have been playing together since the fall of 2012, Rice's record when both those Owls scored in the same game was a combined 12-0-1.
By the time junior transfer Madeleine Lundberg's first-ever Rice score in the 40th minute, played on a pass from sophomore Alex Lowes that stretched the margin to 3-0, the Blue & Gray had every reason to think the `Hughes-Hargreaves-scoring-stat' was now well on its way to 13-0-1.
WKU would not go away so easily at home, however, and battled back for a second half goal off a corner kick. Hilltopper midfielder Hannah Chua made it a 3-1 game in the 63rd minute with her fifth goal of the season. It was the only score of the night as Owl goalkeeper Zoe Pochobradsky finished with a pair of saves.
Rice improved to 5-3-1 overall on the season and grabbed a share of the lead in the C-USA standings with a 1-0-0 conference record. WKU is now 4-3-2 and 0-1-0 in league play.
The Owls' C-USA weekend road swing concludes on Sept. 27. Rice next plays red-hot Marshall on Sunday in Huntington, W.Va. Start time for the match is slated for 11 am Central Time (Noon Eastern). The Blue Gray has not won at Marshall since 2008.