Women’s soccer to take on Rice in NCAA Tournament opener

Daniel Clay

After losing a heartbreaking penalty shoot-out against No. 9 West Virginia in the second round of last weekend’s Big 12 tournament, all the Texas women’s soccer team could do was cross its fingers and hope that a late-season surge would be enough to get the Longhorns back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011.

The results exceeded even head coach Angela Kelly’s expectations. Texas ended up getting not just a tournament bid but also the opportunity to host the opening round in Austin against the Conference USA champion Rice Owls on Friday at 5 p.m. 

“Its great to have the seniors play in front of the home crowd for another time when you really weren’t expecting it,” Kelly said. “That’s like icing on the cake for our senior class.”

The Longhorns will enter their second postseason tournament with a huge boost of confidence following last weekend’s strong showing against two ranked opponents in the Big 12 Championship.

“We did everything correct, and it’s just a testament to our program and how much we’ve grown since the beginning of the year,” senior midfielder Sharis Lachappelle said. “We came out with what was to be called two ties against two top-15 programs, and so, for our program, that’s just incredible.”

If the Longhorn defense and its stalwart junior goalkeeper Abby Smith, who conceded just one goal in two matches last weekend, can play like it did in Kansas City, Texas could find itself making a deeper run than many expected at the beginning of the year.

However, Texas will need all 11 of its players to mesh if it wants to knock off the Owls. Rice finished the season with a 14-3-3 record and played well against opponents from the top conferences, tieing Arkansas and losing by a goal in overtime to a strong Baylor team.

The Rice offense — led by junior forward Lauren Hughes and her 14 goals — has lit up the scoreboard all season. The Owls also boast the Midfielder of the Year in senior Quinny Truong. 

Rice will pose a challenge for the Longhorns, but a strong end to the season and an ever-improving crop of young talent should put the team in good position to make a tournament run.

“We can do this,” freshman midfielder Morgan Murphy said. “We can hang with anyone, and I don’t even think we think we’ve played our best soccer yet.”