Photos By: Scarlett Gully
After 12 losses and a tie against Rice, Southern Miss Soccer earned its first program win against the Owls in dramatic fashion.
With less than four minutes left in the second overtime period, freshman Ilana Izquierdo converted a penalty kick and lifted the Golden Eagles past the Owls 2-1 to take to first place in the Conference USA West Division.
“I was nervous but I really wanted to win,” Izquierdo said. “The team deserved it so I put my 100% in it and scored.”
Southern Miss has had a tough history with Rice but for many returning players, the most recent loss against the Owls still stands out. The Golden Eagles fell to Rice in penalty kicks last season in the C-USA semifinals, knocking them out of the tournament. The Owls went on to win the championship.
Not only did Southern Miss get its revenge, but they dethroned Rice from the top spot in the division as well.
“Before the game, I told the ladies, “why not us and why not today?”,” Head Coach Mohammed El-Zare said. “We have to believe and we have to show up and show it with actions. People talk. Show it with action and those ladies showed up.”
El-Zare said the team was limited because of its injuries, forcing him to use eight players from the bench. Backup goalkeeper Alex Helbling was even substituted into the game to play on the field.
“I’m proud of every single player. We used pretty much everybody in our lineup and everybody contributed,” El-Zare said.
Sophomore Blessing Kingsley struck first for the Golden Eagles in the thirtieth minute, dribbling to center field and sending the ball past Rice goalkeeper Bella Kilgore. Lauren Bennett assisted the goal.
“It was a beautiful combination with Blessing running it through the central channel and sliding the ball in,” El-Zare said.
Southern Miss kept its 1-0 lead until the Owls got a fast start to the second half, scoring ten minutes in by a goal from Delaney Schultz.
While Southern Miss outshot Rice 16-9, Kilgore saved seven shots, which forced Southern Miss into overtime for the third consecutive game.
After a contested first overtime period, the Golden Eagles got a break on a similar play from its first score. Izquierdo passed the ball centerfield to Adaira Nakano, who was fouled in the box, setting up the game-winning penalty kick.
Southern Miss similarly won a statement game towards the end of last season against North Texas, picking up the first win in program history against the Mean Green. Now the team’s focus transitions on how to maintain the momentum with two games remaining in the regular season.
“It’s amazing but we need to keep working, we need to keep putting our chances away and focus on the next game because it’s not done,” Izquierdo said.
“We have to stay grounded,” El-Zare said. “We have to enjoy it but we have to get back to work tomorrow by taking care of ourselves and healing and doing the little things that a lot of people won’t do, which is taking care of ourselves, nutrition, sleep, spending time together. Just doing the little things and being present in everything we do.”
Southern Miss will travel next week to El Paso, Texas to face the UTEP Miners Oct. 22.