A Championship Season
July 22, 2005
LAS VEGAS - Not much was expected of last year's women's soccer team by the rest of the Mountain West Conference, as UNLV was predicted to finish fourth in the preseason poll. However, the Rebels were confident they could compete for the league title after returning most of their players from a team that finished 2003 on a four-game unbeaten streak. Indeed, they carried that momentum into 2004 and all the way to capturing it's first-ever MWC regular season title, while also earning the first NCAA Tournament appearance in the seven-year history of the program. Already one of the top defensive teams in the nation, the Rebels used a trio of freshmen to help boost their offense and give them that final push into the soccer elite, a place they look to make themselves home at.
The first game of the season, though a 2-0 loss to 17th-ranked Kansas, gave UNLV exactly what it was looking for, a chance to prove they could compete with the nation's best. Following a 3-2 win over Long Island (Aug. 30), the Rebel defense stepped up and showed it would be a force to be dealt with in 2004, as star goalkeeper Jenna Huff and UNLV posted three straight shutouts in wins over Northern Arizona, Montana and Houston. Following a 1-1 tie at Rice, the Rebels then traveled to seventh-ranked Tennessee and were sent back to Las Vegas with a 3-0 setback.
Once again, UNLV followed a loss to a top-20 team with a five-game unbeaten streak. In fact, the Rebels held their next 10 opponents to one goal or less, and were an impressive 8-1-1 during that stretch, beginning with a 2-1 upset over San Diego at home on Sept. 24. The win over the Toreros also showed off the Rebels' depth on offense, as freshman Katie Carney became the fourth different player in five wins to post the game-winning score. After a 2003 campaign in which Annii Magliulo scored one-third of the team's goals (eight of 25) and had five of the team's nine game-winners, the ability to field several goal-scoring threats on offense was eventually the deciding factor in UNLV's success during the season, Just nine players total scored in 2003, but it was a different story last season as 12 different players combined for 28 goals while playing two less games. More impressively, seven different players notched at least one game-winning score in 2004 for UNLV, but the biggest factor came from the freshman class as Carney, Jessica Destito, Ashly O'Harrow, and Erica Frizzell would combine for 11 goals, seven of them for game-winners in their first year in a Rebel uniform.
After another disappointing tie, this time a scoreless overtime contest at Nevada, Reno, UNLV returned home for back-to-back shutout victories over Idaho State and Arizona State, both postseason teams in 2003. That set the scene for perhaps the biggest victory of the season, as Huff posted her fourth straight shutout and Angie Inzana tallied the lone goal of the game late in a 1-0 upset of preseason conference favorite Utah on its own home field. Though UNLV would end up splitting the road trip with a 1-0 loss at BYU, which also snapped Huff's scoreless streak at 502 minutes, the Rebels were in good shape in the league race after posting a 1-1 record on the toughest away swing in the conference.
UNLV took advantage of its position by winning its last four games in conference play. San Diego State looked to challenge UNLV for the regular-season title as the Aztecs entered the regular-season finale tied for first with the Rebels, and had not allowed a goal in conference play all season. UNLV made quick work of that streak however, scorching San Diego State for three goals on its own home field for a 3-0 victory on Oct. 30, giving the Rebels the MWC regular-season championship.
Awarded the top seed in the MWC Tournament and a first-round bye, UNLV met fourth-seeded Utah in the semifinals. This time the Utes would come out on top, scoring a pair of goals in the final 10 minutes on the way to the victory. Though UNLV missed out on the league's automatic bid awarded to the tournament champion, its performance against a tough regular-season schedule paid off, as the Rebels received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, marking the first postseason appearance in school history.
For the second straight game, UNLV was matched against a team it had upset earlier in the season, this time being San Diego, which had risen in the national rankings to 21st. The Rebels gave it all in a tight and competitive game, but USD came up with the golden goal in double-overtime to escape with a 1-0 win in the first round.
Though the San Diego loss was a heartbreaking one for the Rebels, nothing could take away from what the team had accomplished during the season. One of the biggest reasons for UNLV's rise the past few years, Magliulo finished her career at UNLV as the school's all-time leading scorer with 68 points (25 goals, 18 assists), and was named MWC Offensive Player of the Year. She was also a first team all-conference selection, along with defender Jenny Ruiz and Huff, who shattered her own school records with a 0.76 GAA and eight shutouts. Huff and Ruiz were part of a defense that finished 28th in the nation in team GAA (0.76) and tied for 36th in shutout percentage with nine (for 0.47 per game). Ruiz and Huff were also both named Soccer Buzz All-Region, while Dan Abdalla received MWC Coach of the Year honors.