The UTEP soccer team will wrap up its four-match homestand when it plays host to Southern Miss (7 p.m. Friday) and No. 16 UCF (11 a.m. Sunday) at University Field this weekend. The Conference USA standings are congested, making the games against the Golden Eagles (4-7-1, 1-4-0 C-USA) and Knights (10-3-1, 4-2-0) of the upmost importance for the Miners (9-6, 2-4-0 C-USA).
Momentum is with UTEP, which used wins against UAB, 3-2, (Oct. 7) and No. 22 Memphis, 4-1, (Oct. 9) to improve to 6-0-0 at home this season. The effort against the Tigers also halted their 25-match unbeaten streak in C-USA play (30 including the league tournament) and helped earn Tori Martyn the C-USA Offensive Player of the Week.
There are some tremendous promotions on tap for the weekend. Individuals who wear pink will get in free as part of the “Think Pink” initiative for the match-up against Southern Miss. There will also be a mariachi band that will provide live music for Friday’s contest. “Military Appreciation Day” highlights the game against UCF. There will be free admission to anyone wearing red, white and blue or who displays a valid military ID.
“This weekend is extremely important with two big home games,” UTEP head coach Kevin Cross said. “The city of El Paso has three more chances to watch us in the regular season, and two of them are this weekend. We hope to have the stands packed as it helps us get results. Both teams present tough challenges. Southern Miss beat a very talented SMU program this past weekend, and they will be a tough battle as they really fight for everything. UCF is #16 in the country, so we will have our hands full and have to play our very best soccer game to get a result. We’re very thankful for UTEP, El Paso, the soccer community and the media’s support of our program. We love playing in El Paso!”
Finishing chances will once again be a theme for the Miners, who did just that in the important wins against the Blazers and Tigers. UTEP has the third-ranked offense in the league (1.87 goals per game), with its balance playing a big factor in the success.
Tess Hall (seven), Azia Nicholson (six), Jade Babcock (four), Mackenzie German (four), Tori Martyn (three) and Brittany Kindzierski (two) all have multiple tallies. Hall has also been the best distributor with eight assists, while Babcock, Martyn, Skye Schultz have produced four and Tayler O’Hayre has pitched in three.
The balance has allowed UTEP to persevere through injuries and sickness that has sidelined numerous key contributors. Lauren Katada, who had five goals and five assists last year, played in two games this season before being shutdown with an injury. German hasn’t played since the start of league play while Schultz has missed the past three tilts. Defender Gino Soto has missed two games and freshman Lauren Peck has competed in eight of the 15 tilts. Highly-touted freshman Aleah Davis has yet to see action this year.
At the other end of the pitch, the defense is coming off its best performance from an execution standpoint of the season. The Miners limited Memphis’ top-ranked C-USA offense to just one tally, off a bad bounce on Sarah Dilling, and just three shots on goal.
The opposition has been held to just 4.5 shots on goal per game, which has factored into UTEP posting three shutouts while keeping five other teams to just one tally.
Southern Miss got off to a 2-1-1 start on the season before enduring a 1-5-0 stretch. The Golden Eagles halted the skid with a 2-0 defeat of SMU (10/5/12) but they were bounced by Tulsa, 3-2, last time out on Oct. 7. USM has had some struggles on the road with a mark of 1-5-1, including 0-2 in league action.
Danica Roberts has been the biggest scoring threat, posting five goals in 12 games played. Chelsea Cruthirds and Jordan Wagner each have two tallies, to go along with a team-high-tying four assists on the campaign. Lindsey Schwaner has been the primary goaltender, and she has been busy. She has registered 68 total saves while conceding 18 goals.
USM has scored 10 of its 15 goals in the second half, but it has also allowed 10 tallies over the final 45 minutes of the match.
UTEP will have its hands full against UCF, which was eighth in the country before suffering a 2-1 loss to SMU (10/7/12) last time out. The Knights have a +20 goal differential (29-9), including +9 (13-4) in league play. They have posted almost as many shots on goal (119) as their opponent’s total shots (125).
Nicolette Radovcic (nine goals) highlights the UCF attack, though Tishia Jewell (four), Kristina Trujic (three) Ashley Nicol (two) have also been big threats on offense.
The defense is smothering, with foes mustering only nine goals in 14 games thus far. UCF has posted eight shutouts and kept two other teams to just one strike. Lianne Maldonado has been the primary netminder with 37 of the 45 saves on the season