Jesse Livingston" />
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Friday, September 29, 2023


Zavalza throttles Cajuns

She was named Orange County’s "Fastest Girl" while competing in track and field during her senior year at St. Margaret’s Episcopal in California. On Monday, UH freshman forward Jessica Zavalza was named the Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week, the first Cougar to earn that honor since Sophia Mundy in 2006.

On Friday night at Robertson Stadium, Zavalza provided a refreshing jolt of energy by helping the Cougar soccer team (3-1-0) to its third consecutive win of the season.

After serving a one-game suspension because of a red card in a match against the Sam Houston State Bearkats, Zavalza was back in the starting lineup and provided all the offense in a 2-0 win to stifle the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns (1-3-1).

With a feed from UH senior defender Maegan Kiphart, Zavalza showcased her tremendous speed by maneuvering past two Ragin Cajun defenders before beating UL senior goalkeeper Stephanie Weston one-on-one and sending the ball far left and into the net in the sixth minute for the game’s first score.

"When I sat out last game (against Stephen F. Austin), I couldn’t (stand to) watch it from the sidelines because I wanted to play so bad," Zavalza said. "I was so anxious to be back on the field tonight."

There were a few first-half defensive lapses from the Cougar midfielders and defenders. They were pressured by UL’s talented forwards, including senior Heather Fuller, who led her team with three shots against Houston. However, UH senior goalkeeper Shelby Scott, who collected her UH all-time leading 10th career shutout, leaped out to make diving saves and thwart anything the Ragin Cajuns sent her way. She finished the night with six saves.

The Cougars made adjustments after halftime and tightened up their defense and turned up their offensive intensity, spreading the ball around while on their way to getting 15 shots on the night.

"We’re generating offense," UH head coach Susan Bush said. "Last year, we completely lacked in offensive attack, so I’m pleased with our forwards, in that they are scoring goals and creating chances."

Both teams combined for 17 fouls in another physical match, in which continuous slide tackles and hard shoves were the norm. Ragin Cajun freshman defender Megan Riley and sophomore midfielder Chelsea Balestra collected yellow cards, and the home crowd grew restless each time a Cougar fell to the ground from an opponent’s shove.

But in the 73rd minute, that restlessness turned into jubilation as Zavalza once again scored for the Cougars, punching her third career goal from an assist off the foot of freshman defender Stephanie Derieg inside the penalty box.

"She’s huge," said Bush of Zavalza. "We brought her in to score goals and she’s producing so far…. She’s got a nose for the goal and is doing exactly what we are asking her to do."

After losing their season-opener to the Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners, the Cougars have racked up three consecutive wins and haven’t looked back. But the schedule doesn’t get any easier as they begin a four-game road trip Friday at No. 8 Texas. They will play LSU, Baylor and Texas State before playing another game in Houston.

"We’re going to sit down and look at some tape of our team and fix what we need to fix," Bush said. "If we can just go out there and stick to our game plan of out-working the other team, then I’ll be proud of the girls (during the road trip)."

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