Southern Miss wins conference opener over WKU

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The Southern Miss women’s soccer team defeated Western Kentucky on Sunday, Sept. 16, to earn a 1-0 start in Conference USA play. The Golden Eagles’ 7-1 overall record is the team’s best start through eight games since the team started the 2013 season 5-1-2.

“First of all, I’m really proud of the girls for the effort that they brought and the commitment, not only from the ladies but from our coaching staff and support staff,” Head Coach Mohammed El-Zare said. “Everybody is just doing so well, and I’m very proud of that.” 

The team showed a lot of promise in non-conference play leading up to the weekend, but hosting a 2-3-2 Western Kentucky team was certainly important in determining where the team stands among the other conference programs. 

“Western Kentucky is a very strong, well-coached team,” El-Zare said. “But I’m just really excited about how our girls were able to stay disciplined and execute our game plan. They created opportunities and to be rewarded with a goal late in the game is a testament to the commitment and discipline of these young ladies.” 

The winning goal was not scored until the first extra time period as there were no goals by either team in 90 minutes of regulation play. Sophomore goalkeeper Kendell Mindnich racked up four saves to keep the Hilltoppers scoreless in the match. Southern Miss only recorded one shot on goal in regulation which was kicked by senior Stephanie Garcia. Western Kentucky also outshot Southern Miss 11-10 in total shots.

El-Zare says the team’s strategy in each game is to be patient with the game plan and continue to attack even when opportunities are not plenty. 

“We do play an attacking brand of soccer,” El-Zare said. “We want to keep possession, but also when we lose it we want to regain it quickly. That’s a part of our philosophy and our brand.” 

The payoff for the team’s patience came in the extra time period with a winning goal from sophomore midfielder Miah Zuazua in the 96th minute. Senior midfielder Hannah Abrams was credited with the assist.

“Miah had a wonderful game,” El-Zare said. “She helped us control the match, and there were times when we needed to slow down the game and she helped do that for us. But you know, it is not only the person who scores the goal. They all played exceptionally. Kendell [Mindnich] played really well for us, and in the middle you could see Joannie Ramos, who hurt her ankle but wanted to go back in late in the game and give us leadership on the field. I’m really excited for our young ladies.” 

The Golden Eagles are now riding a seven-game winning streak with an opportunity to claim another C-USA victory at home on Thursday, Sept. 20, when they host North Texas at 4 p.m.