Sept. 28, 2012Holly Hargreaves tallied her team-leading seventh goal of the season, and did so by scoring in a school-record fourth-straight game, to lift the Owl soccer team to a 1-0 Conference USA road victory over Southern Miss Friday evening on the road in Hattiesburg, Miss.
With the win the Owls improved to 6-4-2 overall and maintained a share of the lead in the Conference USA standings with an 3-0-0 league record. Rice held a 6-5 advantage in corner kicks and a seemingly comfortable 14-6 margin in shots, but by the end of the hard-fought match had Owl head coach Nicky Adams could not limit the credit to just the Blue & Gray.
"Both teams played pretty well, and it was a battle today," coach Adams said. "Southern Miss did a good job of putting numbers behind us and condensing space, which made it really hard to attack. They gave us a problem that was tough to solve, but our girls found a way and fought through it."
The Rice offense made what proved to be the deciding break-through in the 33rd minute. Freshman Lauren Hughes was outside the 18 where the Golden Eagle defense was closing-in fast. Hughes played the ball through to a sprinting Hargreaves, who turned and blasted a shot attempt from the penalty area to the back of the net on the bottom left side.
Not only did Hargreaves' team-leading seventh goal of the season put the Owls in front 1-0, it also set a couple of milestones in the process. The freshman from New Hope, Pa., became the first Owl in Rice soccer history to score a goal in four-straight games. All four proved to be the game-winning scores as Rice claimed its fourth-straight victory. With four game-winning goals in just two weeks' worth of games, the Owl rookie has also suddenly vaulted into a tie for first place in the Rice record book with five game-winning goals in a single season.
The Owls' talented freshmen forwards may have helped put Rice in front, but there was still a full second half of soccer to play. For defense coach Adams looked to some veteran leadership, where senior Lauren LaGro helped the backline come up big.
"Lauren did a great job for us at center-back," Adams said. "She was all over the place and provided some solid defensive support for the team for the full 90 minutes."
Rice needed its defense against a determined Southern Miss squad that had been undefeated at home. Sophomore goalkeeper Amy Czyz finished with three saves, with perhaps the most important being her last in the 89th minute after USM got a dangerous shot off on a corner kick.
The Owls have now posted three defensive shutouts over the last four games. It's an overall effort that is not lost on coach Adams, but Friday's contest had her on succinct side of describing about how it feels to hold a portion of the conference lead with an undefeated C-USA ledger.
"Draining," coach Adams explained. "All road games are extremely tough. We're grateful to get out of Southern Mississippi with a win."
The first half of the Owls' weekend road swing has been completed, but there is still a tremendous challenge coming up next. The Blue & Gray next play at national power UCF on Sunday (Sept. 30). The Knights are the No. 10 ranked team in the nation with an 8-2-1 record. The start time for the match is 1 in Orlando, Fla. (noon Central Time).
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