CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Soon after the No. 23 ranked Rice Soccer team defeated Charlotte 1-0 Sunday on the road in North Carolina to improve to a perfect 9-0-0 in Conference USA, the Owls officially clinched the 2017 C-USA regular season championship a few minutes later as other league matches became final.
Now 12-2-1 for the full season, and riding a program-best 10-match win streak overall, Rice Soccer has won an outright regular season conference championship for the first time. In 2012 the Owls shared the C-USA regular season crown with then league member Colorado College. The Blue & Gray have also won the C-USA Tournament in both 2005 and 2014 (which are also league championships but separate from the regular season).
The C-USA regular season standings are determined by getting three points for a win and one point for a tie. Rice has amassed 27 points from its nine conference wins, and no other league team can catch the Owls heading into the upcoming final week of the regular season.
“I am extremely proud of this team for grit and fight that they have been showing, today and for the full season,” said Rice’s Nicky Adams, the Owls’ head coach who was won three of the four conference titles in her seven years at the helm of the program. “I thought Charlotte put us under an immense amount of pressure. They are a fantastic team and created a lot of problems for us.”
With talented Charlotte squad playing well Rice’s first half was far from its best. The Owls were getting out-shot 9-2 and did not put together any offensive chances on corner kicks.
As the first half was winding down in the 43rd minute, however, Rice made something happen. On her own, junior midfielder Annie Walker had the ball but Charlotte’s defenders were swarming-in. Walker spun the ball around to break away from the charging goalkeeper before shooting the ball to the back of a now empty 49er net. The score was Walker’s fourth goal of the season and what prove to be her first game-winner of the year.
“I thought Annie Walker had a fantastic weekend with three goals and two assists (including Thursday’s win at Old Dominion),” Adams said. “That goal she scored with less than three minutes to play in the first half was crucial because Charlotte did have a lot of momentum. Being up going into halftime was huge. We made some changes at halftime which I think helped a bit. We were able to execute some things to get some better looks on-goal.”
The second half scoreless, but a more balanced 6-5 Charlotte advantage in shots and 3-2 margin in corner kicks. Credit Rice sophomore goalkeeper Maya Hoyer in making the narrow 1-0 margin stand up on the strength of six saves. The complete game shutout was Hoyer’s eighth of the year in goal.
Charlotte is now 9-7-1 on the season and 4-4-1 in conference for 13 points. Last season the Owls suffered a loss at the 49ers’ home TransAmerica Field while playing in the 2016 C-USA Tournament (1-0 to UTEP). Excluding that postseason outcome, Rice has now won 16-straight C-USA regular season matches dating back to last year.
The Owls next return to action with the final C-USA match of the regular season on Friday (Oct. 27). Rice plays at North Texas in a 7 pm C-USA contest. Coach Adams may be happy to have the regular season decided, but said things are far from finished.
“It is pretty awesome being able to solidify a conference championship before the end of the regular season,” Adams explained, “but we still have a few more of our team goals that we are looking to accomplish. We have an extremely tough opponent coming up on Friday at North Texas. What we’ll do is re-group after this tough road trip, and come back even more motivated to have good training sessions before our final game heading into the conference tournament.”