Oct. 1, 2010
HOUSTON -- With no shortage of drama, true freshman Hayley Williams scored the lone goal of the game in the 81st minute to pace the Rice soccer team to a 1-0 Conference USA victory over visiting UTEP Friday evening at the Rice Soccer Stadium. The Owls claimed their third-straight C-USA win for their best conference start and are tied for first place with Houston in the league standings at 3-0-0.
Rice and UTEP entered Friday's match tied for first place in the C-USA standings and the showdown lived up to its billing. The contest was scoreless at the half and remained deadlocked for another 35 minutes into the second period. In the 81st minute Rice junior Annie Kadota had possession deep on the left wing and deflected the ball off a UTEP defender that skipped over the endline to setup the Owls' fifth corner kick of the night. Junior Hope Ward started the set piece and launched the ball into heavy traffic in front of the box. Freshman Britton Cartwright put her head on it to get it to the 6-foot Williams, who then headed it in with her back to the goal for an electrifying no-look goal.
"Britton got it to me, I just flicked it on," Williams explained. "There were people all around, and by the time (the ball) got to me I wasn't sure if someone was behind me or not. My first goal and a shutout by the defense in the same game - that's pretty exciting."
The goal was the first of the Williams' Division I career, but before it could officially become a game-winner there was still another nine full minutes left in regulation. UTEP would not go away so easily, but the Owls hung on for their second shutout in C-USA play. Goalkeeper Meghan Erkel was one of six Rice players to work all 90 minutes in the game and the senior from Granite Bay, Calif., finished with three saves. The Blue & Gray held an 18-8 advantage in shots and a 5-4 edge in corner kicks.
"We knew we would have to go all-out for 90 minutes for this game tonight, and we did," said Rice interim head coach Nicky Adams, a native of El Paso, Tex. "Even if we didn't always execute precisely on offense, we were patient enough with our attacks and finally Hayley came up big to put one in the back of the net. She also played well on defense and those four, along with Amy Beger, Lauren LaGro and Alexandra Trenary, have been phenomenal. Our outside backs kept our shape tonight and that kept a great offense from getting through."
With three wins in a row Rice is back over .500 at 6-5-0 overall. UTEP is now 9-2-0 overall and 2-1-0 in conference. Houston held its share of first place in the C-USA standings with a 1-0 overtime victory at home over Colorado College while a UCF tie with Memphis (1-1) dropped the Knights into third place at 2-0-1. The Owls close out the current five-game homestand with another C-USA match on Sunday (Oct. 1). Rice hosts Colorado College beginning at noon (a change to the start time from some earlier listings).
Even a freshman like Hayley Williams understands there is a lot of soccer left, but notes Owls are finding a rhythm.
"There's another big game Sunday, then it's our first (conference games) on the road," Williams said. "We have to keep the direction that we're going. Everybody seems to work hard for everybody else, and that seems to work for us."
The game's complete box score can be viewed at the above links.