Southern Miss (3-2) broke a two-game losing streak on the road by returning home to beat the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) 3-1 with its strongest attack of the season.
“Taking those two losses is kind of hard, but I think after practice, we knew what we had to do,” senior defender Caitlin Pierce said. “We came in here with a high tempo and we executed everything we were supposed to. Everything we worked on at practice we did today, and I think that’s what helped us keep the tempo up. Everyone had a high energy and that’s when we started putting goals in the back of the net.”
The Golden Eagles dominated the attack, taking 22 shots with 16 on goal. Southern Miss also allowed its fewest shots of the season to pass, as the Miners only got four shots off throughout the entire game.
“The key for us [coming into the game] was dictating the rhythm of the game and winning our individual battles and we did that today,” Head Coach Mohammed El-Zare said.
From the start, Southern Miss dictated possession of the ball and got on the scoreboard with a goal from Pierce in minute nine.
“It was a corner, just like the one set piece we’ve worked on all week [with] me staying back and finishing the ball that came out,” Pierce said about her goal. “We practiced it a lot and the feeling was relieving because we finally made one. We were talking all week about the set pieces, so it was nice to score the goal.”
After the senior scored, Southern Miss stretched to a 2-0 lead with a goal from one of its freshmen. Aubrey Olin scored her first career goal on a header assisted by senior JoAnnie Ramos in minute 42.
“I was really surprised,” Olin said. “I have good headers every now and then, but it just felt so easy and after it happened, I was like[,] ‘whoa’. I was shocked.”
Olin is one of Southern Miss’s eight freshmen. El-Zare says the seniors have “led by example” for the newcomers.
“With our seniors, particularly JoAnnie Ramos, Jenny Caracheo and Ariel Diaz, they don’t just talk the talk but also walk the walk,” El-Zare said. “Today, it showed that they make the people around them better and even though they’re not on the scoreboard, they were critical for our result today.”
El-Zare also gave credit to senior defender Macie Pennington for her defensive plays, creating chances for attack.
“Macie Pennington was a rock for us today in her individual battles but also just how aggressive she was creating chances for ourselves. […] She really stepped up,” El-Zare said.
Redshirt senior Alice Campos gave Southern Miss its final goal in minute 73. El-Zare credited Olin for creating the opportunity to score, and applauded her work throughout the match.
“When she [Olin] got her chance, she was able to execute and not only score, but that third goal was all her work pushing the ball, beating a couple of players and creating the chance for us,” El-Zare said. “You don’t know when it’s going to click, and it clicked for her today and I was really proud of her effort and what she’s done.”
UTEP responded four minutes later with its single score of the game with a goal from redshirt junior Vic Bohdan.
“We did a good job, we converted, and we got the result we wanted but we also needed to convert better,” El-Zare said. “But I’m really proud of the effort and the energy on the sideline.”
The victory marked the first time in the series history that Southern Miss has won consecutive games against UTEP. Pierce says that, as the season progresses, the team continues to learn its identity and each other better. She believes this means only better things are to come.
“I think as each game comes, we get closer figuring each other out one game at a time,” Pierce said. “Even in practice, we’re still figuring each other out. We’re still super close to the beginning of the season[,] so we’re getting there.”
Southern Miss plays next on March 12 in an away game against the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA).