El Paso, TX — Tayler O’Hayre scored her second goal on the year (71:39) but visiting Rice received tallies from Gabriela Iribarne (75:00) & Holly Hargreaves (76:20) to rally past UTEP, 2-1, in the Conference USA opener for both squads at University Field Friday evening.
The Miners (7-3-1, 0-1-0 C-USA) controlled possession and dictated tempo throughout the tilt, but a break in focus allowed the Owls (3-3-2, 1-0-0) to escape El Paso with the three points.
UTEP took all seven corner kicks in the contest while also enjoying advantages in both shots (12-5) and shots on goal (5-3). The Miners were particularly sharp in the first half but Rice GK Amy Czyz was sensational in making five saves in the frame.
Play was a bit more even in the second half, but the Miners appeared to well on their way to a victory when O’Hayre boomed a free kick home from more than 45 yards out. The Owls, the C-USA co-defending champions, had other intentions.
They pulled even on the tally on Iribarne’s first goal of the 2013 season before moving ahead for good 80 seconds later. There was not much that UTEP goalkeeper Sarah Dilling could do on either shot, with crisp passing and positioning resulting in point-blank shots.
“We played our style of soccer in the first half but we let them back into it by allowing goals in critical periods,” UTEP head coach Kevin Cross said. “We got to get out here, keep our heads up and be ready for Sunday.”
UTEP was content to play possession soccer in the opening portion of the match, patiently probing the stingy Owls’ defense. The Orange and Blue started to be more intentional with their attack around the 16th minute, firing four shots in as many minutes.
An attempt by Brianna Barreio skipped in front of Czyz, who did well to corral it at 16:10. Senior Jade Babcock rifled a shot that forced Czyz to make a diving stop two minutes later, and the Owls’ defense was able to clear it away before UTEP could capitalize.
The Owls’ lone shot on goal in the stanza came in the final seconds of the stanza, with Dilling denying the try by Jasmine Isokpunwu.
UTEP looked sharp to start the second half, even as the wind whipped. The Miners earned a corner kick in the 57th minute but the service by Barreiro was carried over the frame. The visitors then went on the offensive, with Lauren Hughes drilling a shot that crept past the far post in what was its best chance of the contest to that point.
A foul on the Owls in the 71st minute set up a free kick from about 45 yards out for O’Hayre. With the wind at her back, O’Hayre drilled a shot that bounced through a bevy of players and into the back of the net.
Armed with the 1-0 advantage the Miners upped their attack, earning two more corner kicks in a span of two minutes. They were unable to capitalize, though, and Rice would take advantage with the aforementioned pair of goals.
UTEP regrouped at the maddening sequence, with Azia Nicholson testing Czyz at 77:08 but the Owls’ netminder was ready with a diving save. Barreiro served a quality ball into the box on the ensuing corner kick but it did not pay dividends.
The Orange and Blue recorded two more shots down the stretch, but they could not find the equalizer.
UTEP will look to bounce back when it plays host to Southern Miss at 12 p.m. MT Sunday.
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