Overtime drama results in 2-1 win over Rice

The night was cool and unusually calm in Miami, a clear-cut opposite of how one would describe the game between the Panthers and Rice University on Friday evening. Coming into the late-night match, the Owls were ranked number three overall in Conference-USA standings. The Panthers were sitting at eighth, making women’s soccer Head Coach Thomas Chestnutt and his team the perfect choice for the underdogs.

Throughout the entire 96 minutes, both sides had much at stake. Rice had the golden opportunity to further make their case for the number one spot. The Panthers, with a win, would control their destiny.

“Again, two good teams that are switched on to play,” said Chestnutt. “It’s going to be back and forth.”

Before the game began, a brand new starter made her way into the lineup—freshman midfielder Paula Quintero. Making her first appearance as a starter, Quintero fought off early jitters to bring a balance to the midfield.

Assistant Coach Lauren Singer mentioned postgame that Quintero was “nervous at first,” but handled the pressure well by having great “on-ball moves and passing.”

The “iron-core” of the Panthers defense proved solid once more, allowing zero goals through the first 45 minutes to a Rice team used to scoring quite often (23 goals on season). Redshirt junior defender Nikki Rios helped lead her teammates in stifling the early pressure put on them by the Owls.

“[The defense’s mentality is] always let’s go out and not concede any goals,” said Rios. “Not let the other team get a sniff at the goal.”

There were four sniffs in the first half for Rice versus the Panther’s three, although the Owls struggled to find smooth lanes to work within all night. Senior midfielder Johanna Volz and her band of midfielders for the Panthers rallied behind one another and set an aggressive, but smart, tone. This allowed for forwards Chelsea Leiva and Ashleigh Shim to lead and support on breaks toward goal.

Not more than 20 minutes passed before Rice started picking the brains of each defender with cheeky balls played through the backline of the Panther defense. A few offsides calls hindered the Owls’ attack, but kept the Panthers honest all night.

“I think this last week of training—we all really pushed ourselves to put in as much effort as possible and do the little things correct[ly],” said redshirt sophomore defender Shelby Bowden.  “I think the little things helped us get this win tonight.”

As the first half’s end crept closer, so did the anticipation for a goal from both sides. Rice saw themselves in a corner kick set piece at the 36th minute. An Owl found contact with the ball and in the midst of all the chaos in the box, the ball found the back of the net.

The scoreboard didn’t change, though, and the referee waved off the goal due to offsides. Freshman goalkeeper Nevena Stojakovic was shaken up after heavy contact. No matter, though, as the Serbian native refocused and added five key saves on the night.

“It’s my job to stop shots,” said Stojakovic. “A big part of stopping [Rice] was [due to] my teammates…I’m proud of them. They showed big effort and were willing to win.”

At halftime, one could slice a knife through the thin air and deep breaths each fan were taking. Going into halftime 0-0 presented a fresh slate for the Panthers and a more confident mindset knowing the game was in their hands.

“We were controlling the whole game and [a goal] was coming,” said Leiva.

A goal, indeed, presented itself to the Panthers. At the 54th minute, a rather unlikely candidate, but always a likely factor, found the first goal on the night and of her career. Bowden seemingly made the best chance of her positioning off a wonderfully executed set piece (Leiva and Madlen Weinhardt credited with assists).

“Madlen put in a beautiful ball and Chelsea got a head on it,” said Bowden, smiling from ear-to-ear while holding a congratulatory plant in her hands. “It just kinda skid off her head, went back-post and I volleyed it in.”

The narrative quickly became defense, defense, defense, while Rice’s became desperation. Chestnutt and his team have witnessed and felt the frustration of late goal equalizers after a score.

Those feelings were revisited in the final 40 seconds.

The Owls’ Quinny Truong orchestrated a strong attack and launched a prayer into the box which found fellow teammate Lauren Hughes. Stojakovic made her only mistake of the night in this sequence by coming out too far, allowing Hughes to softly head in an equalizer.

“We let our minds kind of wander in the last 40 seconds,” said Rios. “…From there, we [said], ‘Alright, we just have to win in overtime. There’s no other option.’”

As everyone in attendance began to prepare themselves for overtime, only one loud, booming voice was heard. The voice of sophomore midfielder Alyssa Robinson inserted herself into the middle of the Panther huddle, yelling motivational commands that quickly alerted every teammate of the fight left in the tank.

Six minutes into the first 10 minute half of overtime, senior forward Ashleigh Shim continued her sharing (four assists on the season) and found a trailing Leiva on the left side of the box. Leiva faced Owl goalkeeper Amy Czyz for the last time that night and struck gold—a golden goal for the win.

“Their mental focus was high tonight,” said Chestnutt. “It’s what we needed. We were happy to see that.” Chestnutt also mentioned that the Panthers played to their level, to their roles.

The 2-1 victory was one of the more complete games the University has played this season and has boosted them to a 7-6-1, 2-2-1 record. With seven points, the Panthers sit at 11th overall in C-USA.

Sunday, Oct. 18 at 1 p.m. will showcase the top ranked C-USA team, North Texas University (10-4-1, 4-1-1), against a strong Panthers team.

When asked if the victory over Rice was a confidence boost in preparation for NTU, Rios provided the most colorful commentary of the night: “We hate North Texas, so I think this [win] is awesome. This definitely helps us and our main focus now is North Texas and beating them.”

About the Author

James Profetto
:Staff Writer for FIU Student Media. Majoring in Broadcast Media. Sports guru with a passion for movies, music and getting to know people. Aspiring play-by-play commentator. You'll see me on TV one day.

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