PHOENIX, Ariz. – Powered by goals from Bri Thomas (52’, 56’) and Yesenia Contreras (58’), the UTEP soccer team emerged with a 3-2 win at Grand Canyon University Sunday afternoon. The Miners (2-0-2) remain unbeaten on the year while also spoiling the inaugural home game in front of 1,452 fans at beautiful GCU Stadium for the Lopes (0-4-0).
After a scoreless, albeit entertaining first half of action, there was an offensive explosion in the early stages of the second frame. Thomas got it going by hammering home a header at 52:28. A little more than three minutes later, the El Paso native converted a penalty kick with ease to make it 2-0.
To their credit the Lopes rededicated their attack and earned a penalty kick of their own in the 56th minute. Sophomore GK Alyssa Palacios delivered a brilliant stop, one of eight in the match, on the initial shot by Milla Benedetti, but GCU’s Rachel Mina tapped home the rebound at 56:28 before Palacios or any of the Miner defenders could recover.
The Miners had an answer, thanks to Contreras’s first collegiate goal. Off a corner kick, the ball was batted around before the sophomore hammered it home.
GCU made things interesting with Madison Cox using a brilliant shot to best a diving Palacios at 84:18 but ‘UTEP kept its composure to hold on for the victory.
“I am very proud of the ladies today,” head coach Kevin Cross said. “We have been playing very hard, and the offense was flying in the second half. We are excited to come home on Friday night and look forward to playing in front of our UTEP Soccer fans.”
UTEP enjoyed advantages in both shots (15-11) and corner kicks (8-2) while the Lopes held a slight edge on shots on goal (10-6). Palacios recorded four saves in each half.
The Orange and Blue generated good possession early on, with Thomas helping earn a corner kick. The service, though, landed on top of the goal frame. Four minutes later Kennadie Chaudhary got a clean look but Blakely Fraasch gobbled it up for one of her three saves in the game.
Palacios flat out robbed Brylee Hawkins at 32:15. Off a free kick the ball was served into the box and found the head of Hawkins, who blasted a header on frame. Palacios pushed it wide with her right hand. Three minutes later Palacios had great technique by holding her position strong on the near post to fight off the near-angle shot by Benedetti.
UTEP then connected on three consecutive passes to breathe life into a counter attack. The effort resulted in a corner kick but GCU won the service.
The visitors set the tone early on in the second half with more assertive play from the onset. There was good recognition by Lauren Crenshaw to jump into the play off a corner kick. Her left-foot blast inched wide.
Six minutes later the Miners broke through thanks to Thomas, igniting the wild sequence of soccer.
UTEP will be back home play host to Wyoming at 7 p.m. MDT Friday and Texas State at 12 p.m. MDT Sept. 4. Fans who wear USA gear get in free vs. Wyoming while there will be free doughnuts (while supplies last) courtesy of Krispy Kreme vs. Texas State.