Birmingham, Ala. - The Rice soccer dropped a narrow 1-0 Conference USA match to UAB Sunday afternoon at the Blazer Soccer Stadium in Birmingham, Ala., but there is bigger and better news as the Owls learned they had qualified for the league's postseason tournament where they will have a chance to play for the C-USA Championship and an automatic bid to NCAA Tournament.
There's still a number of scenarios that could play out for seeding and the final spot in the annual C-USA tournament Nov. 3-7 in Orlando, Fla., but the Owls have mathematically clinched one of the coveted postseason bids no matter what. Even with the loss Sunday at UAB, the Owls are still in fifth place in the standings and can do no worse than tie for fifth place next week with just one team (UAB). In fact, Rice could still improve its seeding in the tournament with a win in next week's crosstown showdown against the University of Houston (Oct. 29 at 7 pm).
Sunday's action had all the makings of Rice improving its tournament seed on its own. Like in Friday's match against powerhouse Memphis that was determined by a lone penalty kick, the Owls played well and controlled the tempo against UAB. Rice out-shot the Blazers at home by a margin of 18-7, including just three shots-allowed in the second half. The Blue & Gray also held a 7-4 advantage in corner kicks. Despite the sound and solid effort, the Owls gave up a counter-attack in the game's 88th minute. Blazer junior Laura McCalla, one of the C-USA goal-leaders this season, scored her 12th goal of the year in the team's 18th game with just over two minutes left in regulation.
For as pleased as Rice interim head coach Nicky Adams was with team locking-in its third trip to the C-USA Tournament since 2006, she still has her competitive and coaching side to her that won't let Sunday's result go away so easily.
"Qualifying for the C-USA Tournament was one of our goals, and I am happy our program has accomplished that," Adams said. "Our result today is another matter. We were, at times, playing some of our best soccer. We had a lot of organized attacks and created chances (offensively). We had been on the attack again near the end of the game, but lost our focus on one sequence and allowed a good team to make a counter-attack where they scored.
"There are a lot of things we'll be able to build on from this game," Adams added. "We'll learn that we need to finish what we start from the back line. We'll learn not to be complacent, and have a greater sense of urgency when we're in the final third. This is two pretty good road games we've played (this weekend) against good conference teams and we went 0-and-2. To lose one on a PK and one in the 88th minute is a pretty tough pill."
The Owls are now 8-8-2 on the season and in fifth place in the C-USA standings with 17 points from its 5-3-2 league record. UAB is now 8-8-2 on the year and 4-4-2 in conference for a total of 14 points. Rice's Amy Beger led all players with four shots, including three on-goal. Three other Owls all had at least two shots on-goal. Blazer keeper Kate Blankenship made 12 saves in the match.
Rice has one game left on the regular season schedule. The Owls return home to host crosstown rival Houston on Friday, Oct. 29. Start time for the match is slated for 7 pm at the Rice Soccer Stadium. The Owls' six seniors will be honored before the start of the match.
Sunday's box score appears at the above links.