UTEP will aim to continue a quality stretch of soccer when it initiates Conference USA play by playing at East Carolina (5 p.m. MT Friday) and Marshall (11 a.m. MT Sunday). The Miners (7-2) should be well rested, given they've been idle since toppling I-10 rival NM State, 2-1, in Las Cruces Sept. 12.
The layoff came at a good time, with the Orange and Blue venturing to the Eastern Time Zone to continue the stretch of an eventual five straight road matches. In addition to the win against the Aggies and the upcoming tilts against the Pirates (4-4) and Thundering Herd (4-4), UTEP will play at SMU (6 p.m. MT, Sept. 28) and Tulsa (1 p.m. MT, Sept. 30) before returning to the friendly confines of University Field.
We are excited to start Conference USA play. When Conference USA play begins it feels like the start to a new season. We know we have a big challenge ahead of us with starting play on the road and battling such tough teams, but we are confident that we are up for the task. UTEP Soccer has a big opportunity this year to play in the Conference USA Tournament at home if we play well during Conference USA league play.
“We are excited to start Conference USA play,” head coach Kevin Cross said. “When C-USA play begins, it feels like the start to a new season. We know we have a big challenge ahead of us with starting play on the road and battling such tough teams, but we are confident that we are up for the task. UTEP Soccer has a big opportunity this year to play in the Conference USA Tournament at home if we play well during the regular season of league play.”
The Miners, who were ranked ninth in the NSCAA Central Region poll released Sept. 18, are on a roll. UTEP has won three straight and six of the past seven tilts. The effort has afforded the Miners their ninth start of at least 7-2-0 on the year during the Cross era.
A quality attack has helped UTEP, which is second in C-USA in points (59), tied for second in shots (148), third in assists per game (2.3) and fourth in goals per game (2.1). The Miners’ goal differential (+9, fourth) is also in the upper echelon of the league.
Senior Tess Hall has been on a tear since the onset of the campaign. She leads C-USA in assists (six) and points (16) while sharing the top spot for goals (five). Hall is among the best in the nation as well, checking in ninth for assists per game, 39th in points per game and 96th in goals per game.
Three other Miners are in the top 10 for C-USA for points. They are in the form of Azia Nicholson (11, t3rd), Jade Babcock (nine, t9th) and Mackenzie German (nine, t9th). Both German and Nicholson have scored four times, which places them tied for fifth among C-USA players.
UTEP’s willingness to move the ball has helped the offense. In addition to Hall, Skye Schultz (four, t3rd), Nicholson (three, t7th), Babcock (three, t7th) and Tori Martyn (three, t7th) are among the top-10 in C-USA for assists.
While it often goes unnoticed, UTEP’s play on defense has impressed. The Miners have posted three shutouts while keeping three other foes to just one tally. The 1.11 goals against average is good enough for fifth amongst all C-USA schools.
Sarah Dilling has played every minute of every match, allowing her to rank tied for the league lead in shutouts at three. The sophomore has compiled 30 saves (t6th C-USA) while posting a .750 save percentage (t8th C-USA).
ECU is 4-4 on the year, but it is 3-1 at home. It has out-scored the opposition by a count of 6-3 in those contests. Overall the Pirates have accounted for 1.12 goals per game (t9th C-USA), but they do sport a very balance attack.
Three different players (Chrissy Gratz, Lexi Miller & Stephanie Seagrave) share the team lead at two goals. There are some proven playmakers too, evidenced by Danielle Romano tallying three assists and Rachel Fuller and Kelly Miller both contributing a pair.
While the opposition is accounting for 1.62 goals per game, ECU’s defense is much better than those numbers indicate. Eight of its 13 goals allowed on the year have come on the road to power conference teams (L, 0-5, at Notre Dame, 8/26 & L, 0-3, at South Carolina, 9/9).
The Pirates have posted two shutouts while keeping three other squads to just one goal. Similar to the Orange and Blue, ECU has relied upon a single netminder to this point in the season. Christiane Cordero has handled the duties, compiling 24 saves (9th, C-USA).
ECU has committed the fourth-fewest fouls (63) of any team in C-USA, but it is still an area of concern since its opponents have been hit for just 44.
The Thundering Herd, who will play host to Colorado College Friday, are starting to find their form by winning two of the past three tilts. MU’s attack has been steady at 1.62 goals per game (7th C-USA), with Chelsey Maiden being the biggest all-around threat. She has accounted for four of the nine assists on the season while also scoring twice. Kelly Culicerto and Erin Simmons share the lead for goals at three with Alsyssa Cathey and Maiden both finding the back of net twice.
Marshall has outshot its 113-83 while also enjoying an advantage in corner kickers at 35-25. It has been at its best in the second half, out-scoring foes 9-4.
Overall the defense has been a bit inconsistent with a 1.46 goals against average rating eighth in C-USA, but MU has posted shutouts in two of the past three games. GK Lindsey Kerns has been called upon to make 37 saves (2nd C-USA) and she sports a .755 save percentage (.755).
The Thundering Herd are known for physical soccer. They have been tagged for the third-most fouls (97) in C-USA, with 56 of them coming during the opening period of play.