UTEP Soccer Held Off At Rice, 1-0
UTEP was upended at Conference USA leader Rice, 1-0, Friday evening. The Miners (10-8, 3-6-0 C-USA) displayed plenty of fight but couldn’t overcome a goal by the Owls’ (10-5-3, 7-1-1 C-USA) Lauren Hughes at 22:55 of the first half.
Sophomore goalkeeper Sarah Dilling turned in a sterling effort with a season-high eight saves. The lone blemish came after Jasmine Isokpunwu used a half volley from a corner to put a shot toward the net, which then was redirected by Hughes on a header midway through the initial period.
Dilling delivered seven of her saves after the goal to keep the Orange and Blue within striking distance, but the rally did not come to fruition.
The Miners generated six shots in the match, including a laser by Azia Nicholson which RU’s goalkeeper Amy Czyz sprawled to save in the 84th minute. The shot had enough force to continue toward the net even after Czyz’s save, but it deflected off the post and back into the area. Junior Jade Babcock raced into the box to try to bury the rebound only to have the shot sail over the crossbar. It was a physical tilt with 25 fouls, including 14 on the home side.
Good marking by both sides kept offensive chances at a premium early on in the contest, with neither side mustering a shot during the first 12 minutes. The home side changed that with a long foray from Isokpunwu that skipped in and was gobbled up by Dilling at 13:43. Five minutes later it was UTEP testing the waters with a shot from distance by Tayler O’Hayre. Off a set piece she hammered the ball but it sailed wide.
Rice then worked the ball back up the pitch, earning a corner kick at the midway point of the period. Gabriela Iribarne served the ball to the far side of the box, where a well-timed run had Isokpunwu in good position. She used a half volley to redirect the shot to the right side of the net, where Hughes finished it off with the header.
UTEP rededicated its efforts on defense after conceding the score, blocking a trio of shots in the 25th minute. Dilling then denied Hughes (27:12) and Iribarne (29:07).
Late in the half the Orange and Blue earned a corner kick. Tess Hall laced it to the near post only to have the Owls’ defense win the ball and clear it away.
The start of the second half was similar to the first, with neither side tallying a shot over the first 15 minutes of action. Rice then created a couple of opportunities but Dilling would not allow anything in stoning Iribarne (59:22) and Isokpunwu (60:01) in a span of less than a minute.
Dilling came up with one of her better stops of the match by tipping a shot Iribarne high at 67:07. The Miners had good marking on the ensuing corner, forcing the shot by Rice to be off the mark.
UTEP’s offense started to find its rhythm as the half wore on, with Amanda Pak using a crossover dribble to get some space to work with on the right side. The Owls’ defense had no choice but to slide and force the ball over the end line for a corner.
Hall lofted it into the area where Gina Soto’s initial shot was blocked. She kept fighting for the rebound but the shot was high. Angela Cutaia had a chance after a service into the top of the box but her header was blocked away at 75:03.
Dilling did her job down the stretch with three more saves over the final 10 minutes, keeping the chance of a comeback alive. The Miners’ best look was with six minutes to play after Hall used a brilliant through ball to set up the aforementioned respective chances for Nicholson and Babcock.
UTEP will look to rebound when it plays at Houston in its final regular-season road match of the year at 12 p.m. MT Sunday.