Sophomore goalkeeper Alyssa Palacios made a career-high tying 10 saves but UTEP was unable to make enough plays offensively in a 3-0 setback to Rice Sunday afternoon. The Owls (7-4-1, 4-2 C-USA) received goals from Nia Stallings (23’), Marissa Topolski (41’) and Annie Walker (63’) to spoil the day for the Miners (9-4-2, 2-3 C-USA).
UTEP generated 18 shots, including seven on goal, but Rice netminder Samantha Colley was in top form. The Owls took 19 shots, including 13 on frame, while holding an 8-4 edge in corner kicks.
“We were just not playing our game, not up tight on them and working as hard away from the ball as we needed to (in first half),” UTEP head coach Kevin Cross said. “All the games in our league are tough, and I can’t wait for Friday (vs. UTSA) to get here. We have to work harder for each other, be tighter on our marks, possess better and play are game”
Buoyed by the wind, Rice played a very strong first half. The Owls, who held a 13-4 cushion in shots and 5-0 advantage on corners in the frame, pressured almost immediately. Alexa Bain played perfect defense on the end line to win a goal kick (2’) for the Miners, as opposed to conceding a corner kick.
Palacios was called upon for the first time on a shot (3’) by Erin Mikeska from the left wing. She tracked it well and gobbled it up cleanly. Rice then earned its first corner kick of the game and a quality ball was dropped into play at the six yard box. There was a scramble before Walker blasted it (7’) but Palacios was ready. Three minutes later Aliza Wolfe had some space to work with, but Palacios calmly made the save.
In the 16th minute there was a foul against UTEP in a dangerous spot but the Orange and Blue wall did good work by the wall to block the shot. Rice managed to get on the board after a Palacios denied Topolski’s shot but Stallings buried the rebound.
UTEP looked to find the equalizer with a long throw-in by Aleah Davis was tracked down by Kennadie Chaudhary. The junior then laced a cross but no one was home for the opportunity at the goal. After Rice cleared the Miners went back to work, with a cross finding Natalie Valentine on the far wing but her shot was saved by Colley.
The visitors managed to extend their lead late in the half. Colley boomed the ball through the air, which was settled down and then played ahead. Topolski had a good angle from the right side before her shot bested Palacios.
UTEP had an outstanding opportunity with the seconds counting down at the end of the period but Valentine’s shot sailed high.
Armed with the advantage of the win in the second half, UTEP played much better across the board. The Miners out-shot Rice, 14-6, in the period and had much better possession and nearly got back into the game.
Chaudhary hammered a header (57’) that Colley did well to fight off. Bri Thomas then made a solid run and lasered a shot (63’) that Colley again turned away. Rice launched a counter attack with a cross from Wolfe being one-timed home by Annie Walker.
The Orange and Blue continued to play hard down the stretch but Colley and company had an answer to every attack.
UTEP will look to get back on track in its annual “Kick For The Cure” game against UTSA at 7 p.m. Friday. All fans who wear pink will get in free while also raising awareness for the battle against breast cancer.