The defending SEC and Conference USA soccer champions will square off this evening in the first athletic contest of the 2015-2016 academic year.
First kick between Rice and No. 5 Texas A&M is set for 7 p.m. at Halloway Field in Houston. Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for youths.
The Aggies won the SEC regular season and tournament championships and advanced all the way to the NCAA Tournament Final 4 last season. They are picked to finish second in the conference this year behind Florida.
Rice has never beaten A&M on the soccer field. The Aggies lead the series 3-0 with wins in 2002, 2007 and 2008. A&M has outscored Rice 12-2 in those matches.
“It’s an opportunity for our team to do something special,” Rice coach Nicky Adams said during a school video interview earlier this week. “Texas A&M is an incredible program. There are so many expectations for those players in that program. We’re excited to play them here at Rice. I know we will have a great crowd and it will be a fun atmosphere this weekend.”
Adams has a pretty darn good idea of Aggie expectations as a former standout soccer player at the institution of higher education. She scored 57 goals from 1997 to 2001, the second most in Texas A&M history. She is one of six former Texas A&M student-athletes that will be inducted into the Lettermen’s Association Hall of Fame next month.
Entering her sixth year as the head coach, Adams has raised the level of expectations at Rice. The Owls are coming of a 14-4-3 season, which include a C-USA Tournament title and the first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2005. Rice did not drop a single match at home last season, going 6-0-2.
Adams has 11 starters back from last year’s squad, including the two all-team leading goal scorers in school history, Lauren Hughes and Holly Hargreaves.
Hughes, a senior from Ottawa, was voted by C-USA coaches as the Preseason Offensive Player of the Year. Rice junior Jenny Fichera was selected as the C-USA Preseason Defensive Player of the Year. Hargreaves, who already owns three school records, joined Hughes and Fichera on the preseason all-conference team.
While the Owls are an experienced squad, tonight’s game will mark the first collegiate experience for six Rice freshmen, including two from Texas: The Woodlands native Gretchen Cahill and Fairview native Dominique Mazero.
“I can’t think of a better opponent to start off your college career,” Adams said.
The Aggies return three starters, including 2014 All-SEC Second Team midfielder Janae Cousineau and 2014 SEC All-Freshman defender McKayla Paulson.
With Rice football and volleyball still in training camps, the soccer team has the spotlight all to themselves this weekend. The Owls also host San Jose State at 1 p.m. Sunday
“We got great competition coming in this weekend,” Adams said. “The San Jose State series goes back to the WAC days, and we haven’t seen them for awhile. It will be good to maybe get the rivalry restarted.”