By: John Sullivan, Rice Athletics (firstname.lastname@example.org)
THIS WEEK: The No. 18 ranked Rice soccer team, 12-2-1 overall and the 2017 Conference USA regular season champions with a perfect 9-0-0 league record, is back out on the road for its final regular season match on Oct. 27. Rice plays at North Texas (11-3-2, 6-1-1) on Friday at 7 pm. The Owls then head to Boca Raton, Fla., the following week (Nov. 1-5) where an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament will be on the line at the annual C-USA Championship. The Blue & Gray play in that event as tournament's number No. 1 seed.
2017 C-USA CHAMPIONS: Soon after Rice Soccer team defeated Charlotte 1-0 Sunday (Oct. 22) on the road in North Carolina the Owls officially clinched the 2017 C-USA regular season championship a few minutes later as other league matches became final. It is the first time for Rice Soccer to win the outright regular season conference championship. In 2012 the Owls shared the C-USA regular season crown with then league member Colorado College. The Blue & Gray have also won the C-USA Tournament in both 2005 and 2014 (which are also league championships but separate from the regular season). The C-USA regular season standings are determined by getting three points for a win and one point for a tie. Rice has amassed 27 points from its nine conference wins, and no other league team can catch the Owls heading into the upcoming final weekend of the regular season.
TWO NATIONAL RANKINGS: Rice is ranked as the No. 18 team in the nation according to the latest United Soccer Coaches poll. The Owls' 221 points is the 18th-most of any team in the country after ten weeks of the college season. View the full United Coaches national poll here. Rice is also the No. 25 team in the nation according to the Internet publication TopDrawerSoccer.com. For more than a decade TopDrawerSoccer.com has been an independent leader in covering college soccer. View the full `TDS' national poll here.
HISTORY LESSON: Rice has been nationally ranked before. With an early non-conference win over Texas in the 2006 season, the Owls jumped out to an 8-0-1 start to climb to No. 9 in the country according to the Internet publication SoccerAmerica.com.
HIGH R.P.I.: If you have disdain for the politics of the various national and regional polls, and prefer the cold, hard, math of the NCAA's rating power index, then note that Rice's Oct. 23 RPI was listed as No. 28 in the nation. View the NCAA's latest RPI here. The Owls are also ranked No. 5 in the NCAA in scoring offense with 2.87 goals per game. Rice is No. 11 in Shots-on-Goal with 8.47 s.o.g. per game.
QUICK ON THE OWLS: The 2017 Rice soccer team returns eight of 11 starters from last season's squad that went 11-5-1 and finished second in the C-USA regular season standings. The Owls return a total of 18 letterwinners from a year ago and welcome in a talented new recruiting class. The team's two losses this year were both on the road to Texas and Memphis, a pair of teams that were nationally-ranked when the Owls faced them. Rice's current 10-match win streak is the best in program history. The Blue & Gray have in fact now won 16-consecutive C-USA regular season games dating back to 2016.
COACH'S CORNER: Rice soccer is under the direction of head coach Nicky Adams, who is now in her seventh full year at the helm of the program. Adams owns a career record of 80-44-21. A former pro player and All-America honoree while playing at Texas A&M, Adams was inducted into her alma mater's Athletics Hall of Fame in the fall of 2015. Adams' coaching staff includes Courtney Sirmans in her third year with the program, and Brenton Saylor in his second year with the Owls.
C-USA WEEKLY HONORS: IRVING, Texas -- For the first time in her career Rice's Annie Walker has been named the Conference USA Soccer Offensive Player of the Week, the league office announced from its headquarters in Irving, Texas, on Monday (Oct. 23)... Walker scored three goals and had two assists in Rice's two road victories over the weekend. She needed only 48 minutes of playing time to score twice, as well as set up two additional goals, on Oct. 19 at Old Dominion. The Owls' attacking-midfielder then scored the lone goal of the game in the 1-0 win at Charlotte on Sunday (Oct. 22), clinching the C-USA regular season title for Rice. For the two matches the native of Grand Blanc, Michigan, totaled eight points (3 goals & 2 assists) and she maintained an eye-opening .600 shots-percentage for her five attempts... For the full season Walker leads the Owls and ranks among the C-USA leaders with eighth assists. She is third on the team in both shots (35) and points (16) as a starter for all 15 of Rice's games. Walker has scored three times and maintained a steady .486 shots-on-goal percentage... A host of Owls have earned the weekly conference awards as the team has built its 12-2-1 record and unblemished 9-0-0 C-USA ledger. Senior Samantha Chaiken has been named the C-USA Offensive Player of the Week three times (Oct. 16, and Sept. 18 & 25). Senior Nia Stallings was the Offensive Player of the Week on Sept. 11 and sophomore Louise Stephens was the Defensive Player of the Week on Oct. 9. Sophomore Maya Hoyer was selected the Goalkeeper of the Week for both Oct. 1 & 9.
PREVIOUS MATCH: (Oct. 22) CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Rice Soccer team defeated Charlotte 1-0 Sunday on the road to clinch the 2017 C-USA regular season championship... "I am extremely proud of this team for grit and fight that they have been showing, today and for the full season," said Rice's Nicky Adams, the Owls' head coach who was won three of the four conference titles in her seven years at the helm of the program. "I thought Charlotte put us under an immense amount of pressure. They are a fantastic team and created a lot of problems for us."... With a talented Charlotte squad playing well Rice's first half was far from its best. The Owls were getting out-shot 9-2 and did not put together any offensive chances on corner kicks... As the first half was winding down in the 43rd minute, however, Rice made something happen. On her own, junior midfielder Annie Walker had the ball but Charlotte's defenders were swarming-in. Walker spun the ball around to break away from the charging goalkeeper before shooting the ball to the back of a now empty 49er net. The score was Walker's fourth goal of the season and what proved to be her first game-winner of the year... "I thought Annie Walker had a fantastic weekend with three goals and two assists (including Thursday's win at Old Dominion)," Adams said. "That goal she scored with less than three minutes to play in the first half was crucial because Charlotte did have a lot of momentum. Being up going into halftime was huge. We made some changes at halftime which I think helped a bit. We were able to execute some things to get some better looks on-goal."... The second half was scoreless, but more balanced. Charlotte held a 6-5 advantage in shots and 3-2 margin in corner kicks. Credit Rice sophomore goalkeeper Maya Hoyer in making the narrow 1-0 margin stand up on the strength of six saves. The complete game shutout was Hoyer's eighth of the year in goal... Charlotte is now 9-7-1 on the season and 4-4-1 in conference for 13 points. The Owls next return to action with the final C-USA match of the regular season on Friday (Oct. 27). Rice plays at North Texas in a 7 pm C-USA contest. Coach Adams may be happy to have the regular season decided, but said things are far from finished... "It is pretty awesome being able to solidify a conference championship before the end of the regular season," Adams explained, "but we still have a few more of our team goals that we are looking to accomplish. We have an extremely tough opponent coming up on Friday at North Texas. What we'll do is re-group after this tough road trip, and come back even more motivated to have good training sessions before our final game heading into the conference tournament."
THE RICE-NORTH TEXAS SERIES: North Texas leads the all-time series with Rice 4-3-1. The Mean Green have won each of the previous two meetings, defeating the Owls 2-1 last season at Holloway Field and by the identical 2-1 score when the teams met in Denton in 2015. In 2014 the teams played to a tie at Holloway Field prior to the Blue & Gray claiming a 2-0 win in the Championship Final of the C-USA Tournament held in Charlotte.