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Miners still in contention as regular season comes to a close

Cristina Esquivel
Senior center back Hannah Asuchak attempts to steal the ball from a UTSA midfielder.

The UTEP women’s soccer team will begin another pivotal week of competition after winning big this weekend. The Miners hosted UTSA on Sunday and shut them out on their way to a 2-0 victory at University Field, which secured another double-digit win season for head coach Kevin Cross. UTEP will now prepare for their last two games at home this weekend against Florida International and Florida Atlantic, needing just four points to secure a berth in the C-USA tournament.

Entering Sunday, the Miners had gone into overtime play in all but one of their last seven games, including the last four in a row. Playing past 90 minutes was not necessary after two second-half goals from freshman Jeanna Mullen and sophomore Aleah Davis.

“It was a complete team effort, team defense, team attack, we shut down their key players,” Davis said. “We knew all of these games were going to be good and that we have to come in playing hard, regardless of their record.”

Davis put the Miners ahead when she headed a ball past the Roadrunner goalkeeper on a set piece from senior Tayler O’Hayre. UTSA moved their lines forward, applying pressure and looking for the equalizer, but they created plenty of space between their backline and the keeper.

Five minutes from the final whistle, Miner goalkeeper Sarah Dilling cleared a ball well past midfield and Mullen took advantage of that space, sealing the victory. She outran her defender, and when in front of goal, Mullen displayed the composure of a seasoned veteran, chipping the ball over the keeper for her second career goal.

Not only did Dilling record her first assist as a Miner, the orange and blue goalie established herself as the program’s leader in shutouts. Sunday marked the ninth time an opponent has failed to get on the scoreboard this season and the 19th in Dilling’s four-year career.

“I’ve been gunning for that record for a while,” Dilling said. “I couldn’t do it without my defenders, I’m glad to finally have it.”

UTEP will now focus on the final three games of the regular season, the first two at home. The Miners are currently in a four-way tie for second behind league leaders North Texas. The Miners will face two of the teams fighting for the final positions of the eight that qualify for the conference tournament. UTEP needs just four points of the final nine to wrap up a spot in the top eight.

Florida Atlantic University comes to El Paso with a losing 2-3-2 conference record, 7-7-3 overall. The Owls have won just once in their last six games and are coming off a 3-2 defeat to Rice, one of the teams tied with UTEP for second place. Like the Miners, FAU is no stranger to playing in overtime. Eight of their 17 games this season have gone into overtime, in which they have come out on top just twice, losing three and tying three.

These two squads have met just once before. A year ago in FAU’s first year in C-USA, the Miners went to Boca Raton, Florida, and earned a tough 2-1 decision over the Owls in overtime. Davis scored one of the goals in the game, assisted by then-sophomore Lauren Katada.

Florida Atlantic’s visit marks the beginning of a three-game stretch on the road to finish off their season.

After FAU, the Miners will host Florida International University for their final game of the season.  FIU sits near the bottom of the conference standings with seven points and one less game played after a cancellation due to weather a couple of weeks ago. With a conference record of 2-3-1, 7-7-1 overall, the Panthers have won just twice in their last seven games. They are coming off a loss to North Texas at home and will be in San Antonio to visit UTSA before coming to El Paso. Florida International is among the worst in Conference USA when it comes to offensive production. They are the second worst in shots taken, only better than Western Kentucky, and have the least goals scored with just 15 over the season.

As the season nears its final chapters, games start to become more and more important. The results seem to have a bigger impact on each team’s record and their aspirations for where they want to be when it is all over come November. The importance of finishing the season strong is clear to the Miners’ head coach.

“It’s huge for us to accomplish our goals, they’re two very good teams,” Cross said. “We’ll have a good week, be ready and motivated.”

Luis Gonzalez may be reached at [email protected]

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Miners still in contention as regular season comes to a close