HOUSTON -- The seniors playing in their final home game were honored before the start of the match, but three Owl freshmen and a sophomore scored goals to pace the Rice soccer team to a convincing 4-0 Conference USA victory over visiting UTSA Thursday night in Houston.
With the win Rice improved to 10-6-2 overall and 6-3-1 in conference, guaranteeing the Blue & Gray a chance to defend the team's 2014 title in the upcoming C-USA Championship. The Owls also reached 19 points in the team standings, good enough (for the time being) to move into a tie for second in the fluid C-USA standings. Most of the remaining league teams are scheduled to play Friday, so more changes appear in order before seeding the upcoming tournament just yet.
There may be movement and changes to the C-USA seeding over the next 24 hours, but Rice's performance Thursday was rock-solid and the offense all but took root in the attacking third of the field The Owls finished with a 25-5 advantage in shots, including 11 on-goal. In addition to four goals from four different players and assists from another three different players, consider that yet another three different Owls all hit the crossbar on shots over the course of the contest.
Freshman starter Dominique Mazero opened the scoring in the fifth minute with her third goal of the season. Sophomore Nia Stallings came off the bench to score in the 35th minute. Stallings' fourth goal of the season was also her second in as many games to put Rice ahead 2-0 before the intermission. The Owls began to go deeper and deeper into the bench in the second half and enjoyed the same success. Freshman Darcy Mickalow scored her first collegiate goal in the 75th minute on a header after a sharp cross from Danielle Spriggs on the right-side.
Freshman Annie Walker scored her second career goal in the 81st minute in a very similar style. Freshman Marissa Topolski lined a hard pass from the right wing that found Walker leaping for a header in the keeper's box and 4-0 advantage. A season-high 24 players saw action for Rice, including three making their first appearance of the season.
Almost lost in all the offensive fireworks was two Rice's goalkeepers, Zoe Pochobradsky and Kara Dugall, combining for a shutout on the defensive side. The Owls now have six shutouts on the season, three of which have been in the last four games.
Rice has punched its ticket to the conference tournament that begins November 4 (Wed.) in Miami, Fla. The eight-team, single-elimination event concludes with a Championship Final on Nov. 8.