Oct. 19, 2012
Lauren Hughes scored her ninth goal of the season and the Owl defense posted its seventh shutout to help the Owls soccer team record a 1-0 Conference USA victory over visiting UTEP Friday evening at the Rice Soccer Stadium in Houston.
With the win the Owls held on to sole possession of first place in the C-USA standings with a 7-1-1 league record (22 points). Rice has a chance to claim the C-USA regular season championship if the Owls can defeat conference foe Colorado College in a 1 pm match on Sunday (Oct. 21). Colorado College (6-2-1, 19 points) is in second place in the C-USA standings and a Rice win over the Tigers Sunday would mathematically lock-up the 2012 regular season crown. Without a win Sunday the Blue & Gray would need a myriad of scenarios to play out in the various league games next week to claim the conference crown.
Before there could be a Sunday showdown with Colorado College, however, the Owls would first have to get a win against a UTEP team that had already reached the 10-win plateau. The Miners, a longtime Rice opponent dating back to when the Owls started soccer as a member of the Western Athletic Conference in 2001, entered the game in something of a groove having scored 10 goals on the way to winning three of their last four.
"We knew going in that we needed to keep UTEP in front of us," said Rice head coach Nicky Adams. "I thought we won the air-game in the middle of the park, particularly Julia Barrow seemed like she won every ball. That was huge."
Rice slowly built a steady lead in shots in the first half before breaking onto the scoreboard in the 23rd minute. A UTEP deflection past the Miners' endline gave the Owls their first and only corner kick of the half. Sophomore Gabriela Iribarne served a line drive that freshman Jasmine Isokpunwu leaped and punched with her foot toward the goal. Fellow freshman Hughes then put the final touch on the ball to help secure it to the back of the Miner net for the 1-0 lead. The goal was Hughes' ninth of the year and her third in as many games to grab a share of the team lead.
"Great corner from Gabi and Jasmine came flying-in there," Adams explained. "Lauren was in the right place at the right time, and then just buried it home."
The Owls continued to apply the offensive pressure with another 13 shots attempts in the second stanza, and finished the game with a final 22-6 advantage in shots. Iribarne led all players with a season-high six shots in her second-straight starting assignment in the midfield.
"We came out ready and with intensity because we knew we wanted to win," said Iribarne, who has averaged 70 minutes a game over the Owls last four games where the team is 3-0-1. "It's really fun to win, and even better when the team had to work and play well to get a win."
The Rice midfield helped control the tempo and hold possession of the ball, allowing the Owl backline room to work and keep UTEP pressure from reaching the Rice net. Owl goal keeper Amy Czyz finished with one save for the team's seventh shutout of the season and third in the last four games
Rice is now 10-5-3 on the season. UTEP moved to 10-8 overall and 3-6 in conference.
The Owls' Sunday's game against Colorado College is Rice's final home game of the year and marks the last regular season home appearance for the team's five seniors. The Blue & Gray have one final road game on Oct. 26 across town at the University of Houston before playing in the C-USA Tournament beginning on Oct. 31. Rice has clinched one of the top three seeds for the C-USA Tournament.