HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- Junior Annie Kadota scored in the first half, freshman Jessica Howard added a goal in the second half, and a complete-game shutout by keeper Catherine Fitzsimmons helped the Rice soccer team claim a 2-0 Conference USA road win over Southern Miss Friday afternoon at the USM Soccer Complex in Hattiesburg, Miss. With the victory the Owls improved on their best conference start in history at 5-0-0 and are now in sole possession of first place in the C-USA standings after UCF's 2-1 win over Houston.
Southern Miss took the first three shots of the game over the first 10 minutes of the contest, but the Owls settled in and rattled-off 15 of the next 17 shots over the remainder of the first period. In the 12th minute the Golden Eagles defense cleared-away a header by Julia Barrow after a corner kick for a team save that avoided one score. In 19th minute, Kadota took the ball down the center of the field to the keeper's box for her first shot of the game. Kadota was met with resistance, but blasted-away with her left foot on an attempt and found the back of the net towards the far right post.
Kadota's second goal of the season, and the third of her career, gave Rice a 1-0 advantage but the Blue & Gray was looking for more. Rice continued to apply the offensive pressure, including five more corner kicks. Barrow slammed a shot attempt of the crossbar in the 40th minute, but USM was up to the task with four saves from freshman keeper Lindsey Schwarner.
"We hadn't won a road game this season and the program has never been 5-0 to start conference before, so no doubt about it, this was an important game," said Rice Interim Head Coach Nicky Adams. "Once we got going I thought we did a really nice job of setting the tempo. We had some changes to some positions from last week and that took some adjusting to, but once we began working with each other we found how we could help ourselves."
For as well as the Owls had adjusted, the lead was a narrow 1-0 and an insurance goal would go a long way for some needed breathing room. Howard, who sat out the entire Colorado College game last Sunday after an injury against UTEP one week ago, came off the bench and added to the margin. In the 88th minute, Korey Taylor worked her way behind the Golden Eagle defense and passed to Amy Beger. As the USM defense collapsed-in, Beger quickly flipped the ball to Howard who converted on a close-range shot in front of the goal. It was the freshman's third goal of the season. Simply having the talented young midfielder on the field the rest of the season, even for a brief 28 minutes Friday, could prove to be as big for the team her late insurance goal.
The Owls finished with a 24-12 lead in shots and a 7-2 advantage in corner kicks to improve to 8-5-0 overall and 5-0-0 in league play. Taylor led all players with six shots while junior Hope Ward added four of her own. Almost lost in the offensive fireworks was a complete game shutout effort in goal by Fitzsimmons. The senior from Ann Arbor, Mich., finished the game with four saves. Southern Miss dropped to 3-9-1 on the season and 0-5-0 in C-USA action.
"Cat was solid back there (in-goal)," Adams said. "She got the defense organized and had four saves, and I thought every one of them was pretty big. We needed all of them because Southern Miss played hard. I'm proud of our spirit today, but we have got to do a better job of finishing on our opportunities (on offense) and playing a complete 90-minute game."
Rice has one road game down, but there is still one more to go. The Owls must next play at national power UCF on Sunday, Oct. 10. Start time with the Knights is set for noon (Eastern) in Orlando, Fla. UCF is scheduled to host the University of Houston, the team the owls are tied for first with in C-USA, later on Friday evening.