Playing the seventh-ranked team in the nation in front of an opposing crowd of more than 2,700, the No. 8 USC women’s soccer team wilted in the Texas heat, losing their season opener 3-0 to Texas A&M on Saturday in College Station.
With temperatures at kickoff hovering in the mid 90s and humidity around 40 percent, the Women of Troy started strong by creating several good opportunities in the first half. However, they were unable to capitalize and the game turned in the Aggies’ favor near the end of the opening period.
Freshman midfielder Mary Grace Schmidt gave the Aggies the lead with only 22 seconds to go in the first half when she headed sophomore Becca Herrera’s corner kick past USC goalkeeper senior Kristin Olsen. Junior forward Whitney Hooper doubled the lead in the 73rd minute, capitalizing on a bad pass by the USC defense by sliding the ball inside the far post past a diving Olsen. In the 87th minute, with Olsen caught more than 30 yards upfield, senior Amber Gnatzig beat redshirt senior Meagan Holmes to a loose ball and shot it into an open net to complete the score line.
“I just think the whole thing was a bit much for us the first time out, playing such a good team and in such a hostile environment,” USC coach Ali Khosroshahin said. “You’ve got to give A&M a lot of credit for the pressure they put us under and they forced us to make some mistakes.”
The Women of Troy were the ones applying the pressure in the opening 30 minutes. Junior forward Megan Ohai forced A&M keeper Kristin Arnold to make two saves in the early going, including one from point blank range in the 13th minute.
Fifth-year midfielder Marihelen Tomer also had a great chance to give USC the lead in the 15th minute, but put her shot wide of the far post. The best chance of the game for the Women of Troy came in the 34th minute when junior midfielder Ashli Sandoval cracked a shot from the top of the 18-yard box off of the crossbar.
“We had some clear chances in the first half that if we put away early on, it’s a completely different game,” Khosroshahin said.
Buoyed by their vocal crowd, the Aggies began to take control of the game in the final five minutes of the first half. Freshman forward Kim Castleberry and junior midfielder Rachel Shipley forced Olsen to make two saves, followed quickly by the opening goal.
“The ball kind of slid out and I got tripped by one of the Texas A&M players,” Olsen said. “There was a girl open at the back post and we didn’t match up well on that and she was able to head it into the back of the net.”
The second half was almost completely dominated by the Aggies. They extended their lead to 2-0 in the 73rd minute when a bad pass by a USC defender was turned into a goal by the speedy Hooper. Nora Skelton intercepted the pass and played a nice through ball for Hooper, who beat Olsen for the score.
The defeat could have been much worse for the Women of Troy had it not been for Olsen, who made five of her eight saves in the second half. In one sequence in the 83rd minute, Olsen made a diving save on a Castleberry shot and was able to punch away the follow-up attempt by Hooper with one hand from her knees.
Olsen was, however, caught out near the midfield line in the 87th minute and her attempted clear was headed by a Texas A&M player onto the path of Gnatzig, who found the empty net for the game’s final goal.
If there was a bright spot to the opening match, it was the fact that three USC players earned their first career starts and three freshmen played in their first match for the Women of Troy.
“The first game is always rough, especially with new players coming in,” Olsen said. “If we’re going to lose 3-0, we might as well do it at the beginning of the season because we can learn from it.”
“The mistakes we made [Saturday], we don’t make those type of mistakes,” Khosroshahin added. “Those are things we’ll be able to correct.”
The Women of Troy are in action this Friday at McAlister Field against the Mexican national team in an exhibition match.