The UTEP soccer team will kick off its 10-game Conference USA slate by playing at UAB at 12 p.m. MDT Sunday. The Miners’ (7-1-2, 0-0-0 C-USA) contest against the Blazers (3-5-0, 0-1-0 C-USA) will be streamed through its website (subscription required).
“I am proud of UTEP Soccer’s non-conference season,” UTEP head coach Kevin Cross said. “We were successful, but now the real fun begins. We are very excited to start Conference USA play. We have a tough road test against UAB who play very good soccer at home, and are very well coached. We are going to have to play our best game of the season in order to get a positive result on Sunday.”
Kicking Off League Play
UTEP is 6-3-1 in league openers since joining Conference USA, aided by road victories in both 2015 (W, 2-1, at FAU) and 2014 (W, 1-0, OT, at Middle Tennessee). The Miners are kicking off league play on the road for the third straight year and fourth time in past five seasons. The game is the first of three straight away from home to start C-USA play, something the Miners haven’t done since 2012 (four in a row).
Getting It Done Out Of Conference
UTEP compiled a mark of 7-1-2 during non-conference action to improve to 106-29-9 before league play since the start of the 2002 season. The Miners have now posted a winning record in non-conference action for 15 straight seasons.
For the third straight week, UTEP is ranked in the NSCAA Central Region Poll. The Miners, ninth the past two weeks, now sit 10th after posting consecutive shutout wins against Nevada (W, 2-0, Sept. 16) and vs. UTRGV (W, 1-0, Sept. 18). UTEP and North Texas (eighth) are the only squads from C-USA to crack the central-region Top-10 poll with the other eight spots coming from the Big 12 Conference. UTEP is no stranger to the attention, having now been regionally ranked for part of the season in 11 of the past 13 seasons.
Sophomore Alyssa Palacios was selected as the Conference USA Women’s Soccer Goalkeeper of the Week, as announced by the league office on Sept. 19. It is the second time this season that she has been so distinguished. Palacios helped the Miners (7-1-2) post consecutive shutout victories against Nevada (W, 2-0, Sept. 16) and UTRGV (W, 1-0, Sept. 18), making four saves in each contest. The last Miner GK to earn multiple weekly honors from the league office was Chandra Morden in 2010. Overall UTEP has now had three C-USA Players of the Week in 2016 (Palacios, 9/6/16, 9/19/16; Lauren Crenshaw-Defensive Player of the Week, 9/6/19).
UAB is 3-5-0 on the year, including 0-1-0 in Conference USA play. That overall record has been hindered by going a combined 0-4 (0-3 on road, 0-1 neutral site) away from home with a -13 (2-15) goal differential in those contests. UAB has been very tough in Birmingham, with a 3-1 record and +8 goal differential (12-4) in those games. Overall the Blazers have dropped three straight games, including a 4-2 outcome last time out in their C-USA opener at Middle Tennessee on Sept. 18.
After losing its season opener at home (L, 2-1, vs. Austin Peay, Aug. 19), UAB won its next three games in Birmingham by a combined score of 11-2. Jessica Do (four) Caroline Kehrer (three) and Sarah Morris (two) have accounted for nine of the squad’s 14 goals on the year. Rachel Green (four), Megan Hudgens (three), Marin Carter (two) and Katherine Foster (two) have contributed through passing with 11 of UAB’s 14 assists.
Kelsey Daugherty has played every minute in net, making 40 saves for a .678 save percentage and 2.38 goals against average. The Blazers have played a physical style of soccer, committing 74 fouls compared to 59 by their foes.
Series History With UAB
UTEP is 5-3-3 all-time against UAB, but the Blazers have a 3-1-2 advantage when playing in Birmingham. The two squads last met in 2014, a 2-0 home win for UAB (9/28/14). UTEP had earned a tie (1-1, at UAB, 10/4/13) and a win (3-2, at UTEP, 10/5/12) in the two contests beforehand. The squads have played at least once every year since 2005 except in 2007 and 2015.
UTEP posted eight shutouts in its 10 non-conference games, with that figure already tying as the third most in a single season in program history. The program record is 11 (2006), followed by nine (2014). This year’s team shares third with the 1997 and 2005 Miners.
Defense Does It
UTEP has allowed only four total goals through the first 10 games of the year, the fewest to this point of a season in program history. The prior best was six goals (2006 and 2011). Grand Canyon University (W, 3-2, Aug. 28) and Stephen F. Austin (L, 0-2, Sept. 11), are the only opponents to find the back of the net against the Miners in 2016. Of the four total goals, one came on a penalty kick and another occurred off a rebound of a penalty kick save.
The Miners are 17-8-5 on the road since 2013, including a mark of 1-1-2 this year. UTEP, which has strung together a school-record three straight seasons with winning road records, will receive a big test by playing at UAB Sunday. The Blazers are 3-1 at home in 2016.
Getting On The Board Early
After scoring one goal in the first half through eight games of action, two of the Miners’ three tallies from this past weekend occurred over the initial 45 minutes. For the season now, UTEP has three goals in the first half and 13 in the second stanza. Miner opponents have two in each period.
Palacios Up To The Task
Sophomore GK Alyssa Palacios was very sharp during the 10 non-conference games. She has registered more shutouts (seven-first C-USA/third nation) than total goals allowed (four) in her 931:15 minutes of action (10th nation). The effort works out to a goals against average of 0.39 (first C-USA/13th nation). Palacios has made 53 saves (first C-USA/24th nation) for a .930 save percentage (first C-USA/sixth nation).
Thomas And Davis Leading Offense
Seniors Bri Thomas and Aleah Davis have keyed the offense by combining for nine of the team’s 16 goals on the year. Thomas has five goals (tied sixth C-USA/73rd nation) while Davis has put away four chances (tied seventh C-USA), all of which have served as match winners (first C-USA/fourth nation). Davis has also been an impact player with passing, tallying five assists (third C-USA/20th nation).
Overall Davis has 13 points (tied fourth C-USA/59th nation) while Thomas has 11 points (ninth C-USA/119th nation).
Sharing Is Caring
UTEP has been credited with 19 assists (third C-USA/32th nation) on its 16 total goals (sixth C-USA/87th nation) this year. Ten different Miners have recorded at least one helper on the season while eight players have scored. The last time the Orange and Blue concluded a campaign with more assists than goals was in 2014 (34 assists, 29 goals).
The only other time the feat was achieved at UTEP was 2008 (39 assists, 35 goals).
The Basic Facts
UTEP is in its 21st season as a program, boasting an all-time record of 233-150-30, including 7-1-2 this year. The Miners are under the direction of 16th-year head coach Kevin Cross, who sports a mark of 191-102-23 in that timeframe. He is assisted by two former Miners (Heather Clark and Jessie Pettit). UTEP returned 12 letter winners, including nine starters, from last year’s team (11-7-2, 4-4-2 C-USA).
Going Back In Time
UTEP wrapped up non-conference play on a high note by posting consecutive shutout wins against Nevada (W, 2-0, Sept. 16) and vs. UTRGV (W, 1-0, Sept. 18). Aleah Davis (28’) and Devyn Hunley (78’) scored vs. Nevada, with Nicole Lindsay (Davis) and Carleigh Simmons (Hunley goal) recorded assists. It was the first career goal for Hunley, a junior-college transfer.
Against UTRGV Yesenia Contreras (43’) scored her second goal of the year and the defense did the rest to preserve the win. Aleah Davis and Aylin Villalobos were credited with helpers on Contreras’s goal, which was the first conceded by the Vaqueros since Aug. 21. UTRGV entered the match well rested and on a five-match unbeaten streak (4-0-1). Goalkeeper Alyssa Palacios recorded four saves in each contest.
Looking Ahead To Next Weekend
The Miners will wrap up the stretch of three straight league road games by venturing to the Eastern Time Zone to lock up with Charlotte (5 p.m. MDT, Sept. 30) and Old Dominion (10:30 a.m. MDT, Oct. 2).