CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The UTEP soccer team went toe-to-toe with host and sixth-seed Charlotte only to come up just short, 1-0, in the semifinals of the 2016 Conference USA Championships Friday evening. The 49ers (10-8-2), who will advance to the championship game to lock up with fourth-seed Florida Atlantic (12-7-2), got a goal from Rebecca Beatty (36’) late in the first half and were able to make it stand up.
The seventh-seeded Miners (13-7-2) bow out of the tournament and conclude the year with their most wins since 2009. UTEP also equaled the program’s single-season school record for shutouts (11).
While both teams finished with 15 shots, UTEP controlled play in the second frame with a 9-4 advantage. The best of those chances came on a rocket from Jeanna Mullen that bested Charlotte GK Anna Shelden only to ricochet off the cross bar. Shelden and Miner netminder Alyssa Palacios each finished the contest with four saves.
“We gave it our all tonight and really pushed the attack in the second half,” UTEP head coach Kevin Cross said. “We were unfortunate the ball didn’t go in the goal in the second half. We lost on a very good shot by Charlotte. We had a very good season finishing as one of the top four schools out of 14 in Conference USA. We narrowly missed the finals. I am very thankful for our awesome senior class, and we will miss them very much.”
UTEP had some good sustained possession early in the match, earning a corner kick (6’). Nicole Lindsay took the corner but the home side was able to send it way. The 49ers then set up the dangerous Megan Greene off a corner kick but UTEP blocked away the chance.
The Miners then regained possession and headed up the pitch. Lindsay let one fly that went high. Charlotte couldn’t clear off the goal kick and Kennadie Chaudhary blasted a shot (13’) that forced Shelden to come up with the save.
Bri Thomas then personally put some pressure on the 49ers by registering a pair of shots in the span of a minute. The first attempt went wide of the area, but Thomas eventually regained the ball. She fired a shot (18’) on target but Shelden recorded the save.
Charlotte then turned up the heat but the Orange and Blue stood tall by staving off three straight corner kicks without even yielding a shot on goal. Charlotte did manage to get on the board in the 35th minute after Beatty bested Palacios with a long-range shot.
UTEP regrouped after allowing the goal, and quickly headed up the pitch. That led to a look for Thomas but it was errant.
UTEP worked the ball up to pitch early in the second half, with Kennadie Chaudhary working to get herself a shot (54’) but the 49ers defense blocked the shot. Four minutes later there was a good opportunity from a free kick for the Miners but an unlucky touch by Bri Barreiro sent it over the frame.
The Orange and Blue continued to pressure, earning two more corner kicks in the next two minutes but the home side withstood the sequence. It also used good positioning to wipe out a pair of threats on offside calls.
Aleah Davis then unleashed one of her patented long throw in that was on target and got a clean look for Jeanna Mullen but it whistled just high of the frame. UTEP’s best chance of the contest came four minutes later, with Mullen firing a shot that seemed destined for the back of the net. It was a brilliant strike that beat Shelden only to ricochet off the post.
Palacios kept the Miners within striking distance by denying a header by Martha Thomas. UTEP then launched a counter attack only to have Shelden stone Thomas. The Miners generated two chances late in the stanza, but they were unable to best Shelden.