Goals from Azia Nicholson and Tess Hall, the latter coming with 42 seconds remaining in regulation, lifted the UTEP soccer team to an exhilarating 2-1 triumph at Utah Valley University in the season opener for both squads Friday evening.
The Miners (1-0) dominated most of the contest, outshooting the Wolverines (0-1) 30-8, including 14-3, in shots on goal. The lone slip up came in the 53rd minute when they conceded the match-tying-goal to UVU’s Natalie Baker.
The tally erased the 1-0 lead which UTEP had held since the 15th minute, when Hall and Jade Babcock assisted on Nicholson’s strike. More importantly, it made the daunting prospect of overtime on the road a possibility.
Hall, however, ensured there would be no extra soccer. Skye Schultz and Nicholson set up the senior co-captain from eight yards out, and she buried the chance into the lower right corner to break the 1-1 tie at 89:18. UVU was stunned, and it could not muster a shot in the waning seconds.
Sophomore GK Sarah Dilling registered a pair of saves, including a diving stop on a try by McKell Salmon at 87:32 to keep the score even (1-1). UVU used a pair of goalkeepers, in the form of Lauren Sack (three saves) and Jessica Duffin (nine saves).
The Miners are now 14-3 all time in season openers, including 11-1 under head coach Kevin Cross.
UTEP quickly established its tempo, peppering the home side with eight shots over the first 13 minutes of the first half. Sack made a trio of saves but the Miners would not be denied. Babcock and Hall set up Nicholson just inside the box, who put away the chance into the top left corner past the helpless Sack.
The Miners continued to control possession as the half wore on, pushing their advantage in shots to 11-1 at one point. They couldn’t find paydirt, though, and the home side started to make some adjustments.
The modifications leveled ball possession, but it didn’t level the score. Dilling denied Natalie Baker at 31:10 and the Orange and Blue defense cleared away a trio of Wolverine corners in the final 10 minutes of the first half.
The second half started much like the first, except this time UVU would not yield a strike. Babcock, Brittany Kindzierski, Tori Martyn and Schultz were all denied by Duffin in the first eight minutes of the second stanza.
UVU initiated a quick counter attack following the save on Schultz, and it would result in the equalizer. Shalayne Janis set up Baker, who used her left foot to bend a shot past Dilling at the near post at 52:50
UTEP regrouped relatively well, dictating play and piling up chances. Overtime seemed to be its destiny before Hall’s heroics provided a more fitting conclusion.
The Miners will wrap up the first weekend of action on the road by challenging Utah State at 12 p.m. MT Sunday. The Aggies downed Utah, 1-0, in OT in their season opener.
Following that road match, UTEP will return home to play host to the 13th-annual Border Conference Shootout. The tournament will commence with the Miners’ home opener against Texas State at 7 p.m. on Aug. 22. There will be a free tailgate, thanks to UTEP Alumni Association & UTEP Life Skills, from 5-7 p.m. where select fans can win prizes and receive free tickets to the tilt.