The Owls closed out the regular season with an 11-3-3 record and, for at least 24 hours, grabbed a share of first place in the Conference USA standings with 22 points compiled from its 7-2-1 league record. North Texas also has 22 points on the strength of a 7-1-1 C-USA ledger, but the Mean Green still have a chance for more points and sole possession of first place in the standings with its tenth and final home game against Western Kentucky on Friday evening.
With no way to have any influence on that outcome in Denton, Rice head coach Nicky Adams remained focused on the Owls. Now entering the home stretch of her fourth full season at the helm of the program, Adams has liked what she has seen as the Blue & Gray posted its fourth-straight win and eighth shutout in 17 matches.
"I am really so proud of this team," Adams said of her Owls after the win Thursday. "We came in knowing that UAB was going to give us their best game because their backs were against the wall to win and get in the conference tournament. We came out and played well in the first half and scored a pair of goals. That was a huge help because UAB was not going to go away so easily at home. We certainly saw that in the second half."
Rice helped itself by getting on the board early. In only the game's 4th minute, senior midfielder Gabriela Iribarne found the back of the Blazer net on a shot to put the Owls up 1-0. The score was her fourth of the year and third in the last two games after a pair of goals Sunday against Charlotte.
In the 39th minute Rice doubled the margin to 2-0 with a goal on a long, hard strike junior forward Lauren Hughes. Hughes' recent hot streak has been nothing short of sensational, scoring a total of seven goals in a school record five-straight games over the last two-plus weeks.
"Lauren and Gabi are playing really well right now, and their goals these last few games speak for themselves," coach Adams said. "They're two veterans who have stepped-up. That's something we'll need from everybody moving forward.
"They've been great, no question" Adams added. "They've stood out because they've scored a lot of goals, but I'll tell you we've had some players working at the same level but who have been under the radar.
"(Senior goalkeeper) Amy Czyz has been making saves and getting shutouts," she said. "She's played well, and she's had a lot of help from her backline this year. (Senior) Ashton Geisendorff has been phenomenal moving to defense and (sophomore) Jenny Fichera has played so well all season. We weren't 100-percent sure what we were going to get when we put them with two true freshmen (on the backline) to start the season. It's worked though because they've all worked hard, and they've all worked for each other.
"The backline has done that," Adams added, "and actually the whole team has been doing that. Like I said, I am really proud of this team."
Rice soccer has clinched at least the No. 2 seed of the upcoming C-USA Championship, but as of Thursday night there was still some soccer left to play. The tournament is scheduled for Nov. 5-9 in Charlotte, N.C.