Cougars push Owls to the brink, come up short

The Cougars needed a win over Rice on Friday at Robertson Stadium to earn a berth in the Conference USA Tournament.

The Cougars (6-11-2, 3-6-2 C-USA) did not lose. They dominated the Owls (10-7-3, 4-5-2) during the second half and overtime, but could not crack their defense and finished with a 1-1 tie after double-overtime.

Had UH won, it would have tied Rice with 13 points in the standings and held the tie-breaker.

It was the Cougars who broke the deadlock in the 24th minute when Kylie Cook crossed the ball into the box. Alexis Weaver controlled the ball at her feet before slotting it home from close range past Rice goalkeeper Amy Czyz.

“As a team we put out tons of heart and passion,” Weaver said.

“Unfortunately we’re not going to go, but at the end of the day you just leave your heart out on the field.”

The Owls answered back 10 minutes later when Julia Barrow connected on a corner kick. It proved to be the last goal scored in the game despite a strong finish by a desperate Cougar squad.

Sydney George was replaced by Cami Koski in the 75th minute after stopping six shots and conceding one goal. Koski played the remainder of regulation and overtime, making one save.

“It’s a shame,” head coach Susan Bush said. “A tie certainly does feel like a loss, especially on senior night at your home field. But we knew that coming in and it’s a hard way to end the season.”

Before kickoff, the Cougars honored seniors Ryan Bruz, Lisa Murer, Stephanie Derieg and Jessica Zavalza.

“They are all from out of state,” Bush said. “They came here to make a difference — and they have. If you look at the program four years ago and you look at it now it’s completely different culturally, in the level of play, everything.”

Zavalza led UH this season with seven goals. She said that the loss was disappointing but that the overall experience was amazing.

“I would never take it back,” Zavalza said. “I’m very fortunate to have had such a great experience. My teammates became my family, so I loved it.”

The Cougars’ ninth-place finish in C-USA is disappointing, but the hope for success in the future remains with the players who have another season to wear the scarlet of UH.

“I think we have a lot of good incoming freshmen,” Weaver said. “And now a lot of us sophomores and juniors will step up and raise the bar. We know we should make it to the conference tournament next year and we know we don’t want to feel like this again.”

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