HOUSTON - Senior midfielder Gabriela Iribarne scored twice in her final home game to help pace the Rice soccer team to a 4-1 Conference USA victory over visiting Charlotte Sunday afternoon at Holloway Field in Houston. With the win Rice finished its home schedule with a 6-0-2 record, the first time in program history for an Owl team to go unbeaten on its home field for an entire season.
Rice improved to 10-3-3 on the season and remained tied for second place in the C-USA standings with 19 points garnered from a 6-2-1 league record. Not only did the Owls officially clinch a spot in the upcoming C-USA Championship, the Blue & Gray also secured one of the top four seeds at the tournament scheduled for Nov. 5-9 in Charlotte, N.C.
The Owls went to work early to get on the scoreboard. As Charlotte was trying to clear the ball away from its goalkeeper's box in the sixth minute, junior forward Lauren Hughes alertly played a deflection to the back of the 49ers net for a 1-0 lead.
Rice stretched the margin to 2-0 just before the intermission. In the 35th minute, Holly Hargreaves drew a lot of defensive attention with the ball at the top of the 18. As the 49ers focused containing one of the top-scoring forwards in the conference, Hargreaves slid a pass left to Iribarne on the left wing. The senior from Mission Viejo, Calif., immediately blasted away on a shot that found the top back right corner of the Charlotte net.
The 49ers continued to battle and pulled within one early in the second stanza. In the 51st minute junior midfielder Maddie Kiebel launched a long 30-yard shot near the right sideline for her first goal of the season to make the score 2-1.
The Owls gave themselves little more breathing room. In the 71st minute, Danielle Spriggs served a hard cross from the right side to Iribarne at the left corner of the keeper's box. The veteran quickly settled the ball with a touch and fired a shot to the back of the 49ers net.
The second two-goal game of Iribarne's career put Rice in front 3-1, but the team wasn't finished. In the 79th minute Hughes threaded a pass to Hargreaves on a breakaway, who then scored her tenth goal of the season on the way to a 4-1 final.
Rice finished with a 17-13 lead in shots and an 8-1 advantage in corner kicks. Senior goalkeeper Amy Czyz registered four saves in her final home appearance. Charlotte dropped to 7-7-2 overall and 4-4-1 in C-USA action (13 points).
The Owls finished the home portion of their regular season schedule, but still have one final league game left to play. Rice closes out the regular season at longtime foe UAB on Oct. 30. Start time against the Blazers is set for 7 pm in Birmingham, Ala.