For a talented team with elevated aspirations, an early loss can be bitter medicine you don’t want, but a redeeming remedy you may need. This was the case over the weekend for UNLV’s women’s soccer as they faced their first two opponents of the season at the Las Vegas Invitational hosted at Peter Johann Memorial Field. The Rebels opened the season with a 1-1 record.
Things kicked off for the Scarlet and Gray Thursday night in a highly contested match that saw the Rebels come up just short 2-1 to the Dixie State Trailblazers. The loss, however, was not for lack of offensive firepower.
Dixie opened the scoring after 5:21 in the first half, netting a goal after a corner kick led to a blocked shot and a rebound opportunity for the Trailblazers.
UNLV answered back at the 22:32 mark, when a deflected ball created a chance for junior Alysa Caso, who curled a perfectly placed shot past the goalkeeper into the side netting and tying the game.
Approaching the final ten minutes in the second half, the Rebels held a stretch where they created three one-on-one chances against Dixie’s goalkeeper, Kayla Gonzales, but she was up to the task, totaling six saves on the night.
The defeat was made additionally cruel considering the Rebels controlled possession of the ball in the game and nearly tripled Dixie in shots, 17-6.
Still, amid the disruptive start to the season, Coach Ruiz-Williams saw an opportunity to rally her players and use the upsetting result to contrive good team chemistry and confidence.
“It’s huge,” Ruiz-WIlliams said. “Thursday was probably the best thing that could’ve happened to us, because of the conversations that happened after. You saw the energy change today. It was electric. That’s what’s so special about us, and we found it. We found it.”
Going into the second game of the invitational, UNLV made four starting lineup changes, including transfer goalkeeper Charlotte Brisley to give the Rebels a chance to respond to coming off the bench.
Saturday’s game needed less than three minutes to see the Rebels get on the board. Haley Halbersma found herself guiding her header past the leaping goalie’s fingertips and just beneath the crossbar for her first career goal with UNLV.
“Oh, it felt amazing,” Halbersma said. “You know, last season I got a lot of headers, but I never really made it on goal. [Everyone] was saying, ‘It’s gotta come at some point,’ so to finally have it go in it’s just the greatest feeling.”
The Rebels took the lead and would not look back from there.
With 20:35 in the first half, Izzy Perez entered the game as a substitute. One minute after entering the game, she carried the ball down the field to find Lourdes Bosch wide-open, who carefully tapped the ball into the net.
Perez continued to impact the team by taking a penalty with five minutes left in the half. She buried her first goal of the season into the lower right corner of the net just beyond the diving goalie’s outstretched gloves, giving UNLV a 3-0 lead.
UC Davis notably turned up the pressure offensively in the second half, managing to chip away at their deficit within the first nine minutes. The Rebels adapted quickly to the difference in pace.
“Yeah, we knew the first 15 [minutes] were gonna be hard because they had already adjusted at the end of the first half, so we knew they were gonna put numbers forward,” Ruiz-Williams said. “We were missing one of our center-backs [redshirt-junior Taylie Liddell]. She’s here in spirit. I was just thrilled with the way we learned last year to be very adaptable with the situation, and that’s the Rebel spirit.”
Despite conceding two goals in the second half, the Rebels fought their way to a hard-earned 3-2 victory against a quality opponent. Brisley secured the win for UNLV with several tremendous saves in the closing stages.
The Rebels complete the first weekend of the season winning one of two games for the second consecutive year.
UNLV will look to continue their winning ways on the road when they travel to take on Southern Utah on Thursday, Aug. 26 at 4 p.m., before returning for a home game Aug. 29 against UC San Diego.