CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The No. 2 seeded Rice soccer team held a 20-10 advantage in shots and a steady 7-2 margin corner kicks, but No. 7 seed UTEP slipped away with a 1-0 victory over the Owls in the opening round of the Conference USA Championship Tournament Wednesday evening in Charlotte, N.C. (Nov. 1).
Rice saw its school record-tying seven-match win streak come to an end. The Owls are now 11-5-1 on the season, tied for the fifth-highest single season win total in the history of the program.
A 13-win UTEP squad was ready to play its best game after a the Owls coasted to a 3-0 win over the Miners in a C-USA regular season road game last month in El Paso. In the rematch Rice again set the tempo early in the contest, taking eight of the first ten shots in the game and controlling the play most of the day. Where UTEP was certainly close to opening the game's scoring after hitting the crossbar on a shot in the 12th minute, it was Miner goalkeeper Alyssa Palacios who was sensational making big saves on shots from four different Rice players by the midpoint of the first half.
In a sequence in the 24th minute that went against the game's early flow, UTEP's Aleah Davis made a long throw-in that found Jeanna Mullen breaking on the wing. Mullen headed the throw to Rice's far left post for her third goal of the season and a 1-0 Miner lead.
Rice matched its ten shots from the first half with another ten more in the second stanza. Palacios finished seven saves on the day, but the Owls' best chances in the period may have been Marissa Topolski lacing a shot just a foot or two over the crossbar in the 76th minute before pushing one wide in the 85th. Annie Walker's fifth and final shot of the match was also just wide a few moments later, and Jessica Johnston found the same fate with a wide shot in the 86th.
"Obviously we are extremely disappointed in the result" said Rice head coach Nicky Adams, who had guided the Owls to the highest RPI in the conference (#45) heading into the postseason. "You have to give credit to a gutsy UTEP team this evening. We had a lot of opportunities that unfortunately we didn't convert. We relaxed on one of their long throw-ins and it cost us.
"Overall I am extremely proud of this team this year," coach Adams added. "They are a talented group and I have loved coaching them every single day. Our seniors were critical is our success this year and we will definitely miss them. All of these players showed a lot of character this season and I am proud of the way they represent Rice University."