Back-to-back goals within a three-minute span for Rice (12-2-1) in the first half proved to be too much to overcome as Charlotte's (6-6) tournament run ended in the Conference USA finals, losing to Rice, 2-0.
"Congratulations, first of all, to Rice for deservedly winning the title," said Head Coach John Cullen after the game. "We didn't quite get to the levels of our performances that we needed, particularly in the first half, and that's a credit to Rice. They closed us down very quickly and we got caught with the ball in key areas and weren't able to release pressure."
It was going to be an uphill battle for the 49ers as Julia Patrum, one of the team's leading scorers has been out of the lineup the entire tournament. This proved to be an issue as Charlotte needed every offensive weapon they could get against a Rice defense that includes the C-USA Keeper and Defensive Player of the Year in Bella Killgore and Mijke Roelfsema.
Charlotte struggled to stay on the attack in the first half as most of the time played was on the defensive side. Rice played aggressively on offense, attempting four shots in the first 25 minutes compared to Charlotte's zero.
Injuries started to pile up for the 49ers as Alyssa Moler, one of the key defensive pieces, exited the game with a leg injury in the 26th minute. This would play a huge development in favor of Rice as they scored two goals over a five-minute span. The first goal scored came in the 31st minute off a header from Rebecca Keane inside the box after the ball was batted around. The headed ball went to the far post just outside the reach of a diving save attempt from Abby Stapleton, putting the Owls up one.
Callie Erickson scored Rice's second goal of the game just two minutes later. Madison Kent crossed the ball into the middle of the box, allowing Erickson to boot the ball past Stapleton to give Rice a two-goal cushion. Rice outshot Charlotte 7-0 in the first half and took their 2-0 lead into halftime.
Charlotte made adjustments in the second half, but the aggressive play couldn't lead to goals. They managed six shots against Rice's defense, but only two were on goal, both of which were saved. Their best chance to score came in the 86th minute when Sophie Sipprell redirected a cross that hit the crossbar and bounced out.
Despite the loss, the team will be returning most of its players with 13 returning freshmen and players that had breakout seasons in Patrum and Arteta. The biggest challenge for next year's team will be replacing one of the program's best goalkeepers in Stapleton.
"The young players rose and got their first taste of the college experience. We will return so many young players that hopefully this will kick off their college experience," said Cullen.
The turnaround will be rather quick as the 49ers will take the field again this fall.