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Wednesday, November 10, 1999
Houston, Texas
Volume 65, Issue 57

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Soccer's second season a bittersweet success as team achieves respect

By Josh Gajewski
Daily Cougar Staff

In only its second season, the UH soccer team did a lot of growing in 1999.

It saw just about everything -- an eight game winning streak, a Defensive Player of the Year award, a fallen star in the midst of a heated race, the high of a late season triumph and the heartbreak of a season-ending, crushing defeat.


Pete Medrano/The Daily Cougar


UH sophomore Laura Repp was named C-USA's Defensive Player of the Year after leading a Cougar defense that allowed only 1.8 goals per game.

UH was less than two minutes away from its first-ever Conference USA Regular Season Championship, only to see it slip away on an overtime penalty kick.

"That was more of a loss emotionally than it was physically," UH head soccer coach Chris Huston said. "It was a game that we knew that we could win, but we fell about one minute and 53 seconds short."

UH found itself ever so close to reaching its first-ever conference championship game as well, only to see that slip away too -- this time on sudden death penalty kicks after four overtimes proved to be insufficient time to break a 2-2 tie.

The season began with an all-too familiar ring. After an 0-5 start in its inaugural season, this year's squad stumbled out of the gate as well, going 1-5 in its first six games.

Then it was party time.

Much like in 1998, UH caught fire as soon as conference play began, winning the next eight games -- seven straight in C-USA.

"It's tough for any team to win that many games in a row," Huston said. "We played really well in that stretch. Once you start winning and you start to build a little momentum, you just get more confident."

Chris Huston

The Cougars did suffer a loss of a different sort during the streak -- and a costly one at that. Goalkeeper Michelle Denommé, an All C-USA second team member in 1998 and the only senior on the team, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in UH's 3-1 win over Southern Mississippi on Oct. 3.

The injury ended her splendid collegiate career, and thrusted sophomore backup Susan Barra into the starting role a year earlier than expected.

"Initially, we just weren't expecting it," Huston said. "But the team rebounded really, really well and Michelle remained a very important part of this team off the field."

The eight-game winning streak finally came to an end three games later in Birmingham on Sept. 17. The loss dropped the Cougars into second place in the conference, leaving North Carolina-Charlotte at the top spot.

The chance for redemption came the very next game, when UNCC came into Robertson Stadium for a Friday night showdown on Oct. 22.

After UH jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, the 49ers rallied back to force the game into overtime in which neither team scored in two 15-minute periods. UH was forced to settle for the 2-2 tie.

South Florida was the next hurdle. This one also went into two extra periods before forward Lindsey Beiriger netted the game-winning goal. The win was made extra sweet when news arrived of a UNCC loss, propelling UH back into a first place tie for the C-USA lead.

The season came to its climax as UH prepared for its final conference game against Saint Louis on Oct. 29. The scenarios were plentiful -- UH, UNCC, and SLU each entered that Friday with a chance at the conference title.

The task was simple for UH, though -- a win would have guaranteed at least a share of the conference title for the conference lead, regardless of the outcome of UNCC's game to be played that night.

The game was a gallant one. For the third time in seven days, UH was forced into double overtime. Only this time, it ended in heartbreak.

With only 1:53 remaining in the second overtime period, SLU forward Katie Stewart sent a penalty kick just past the outstretched hands of Barra and into the left corner of the net, eliminating the Cougars' championship hopes and propelling SLU into first place.

UNCC's loss at South Florida later that night meant that if UH could have held on for at least a tie in those final two minutes, it would have claimed sole possession of the top spot.

As the scene moved to Farmers Branch last week, the theme remained the same. After a first-round win over USF in the conference tournament, the overtime bug decided to bite the Cougars once again.

UNCC prevailed on this night, beating UH 4-3 in penalty kicks after four overtimes went scoreless.

Nevertheless, UH's season was impressive. The Cougars are now a combined 21-16-1 in their first two seasons and an incredible 16-5-1 in C-USA.

Player accolades in 1999 were plentiful: sophomore Laura Repp was named the C-USA Defensive Player of the Year and First Team All-Conference. She anchored a defense that posted three shutouts and a 1.09 goals-against average in league play.

Freshman Lindsay Beiriger earned First Team All-Conference while Sophomore Kara Bullinger garnered Second Team honors. Denommé and freshman Becca Smith were named to the league's Third Team.

"We're starting to get some recognition," Huston said. "Next year people will actually be gunning for us because we proved that (last season) wasn't a fluke."

Looking toward next season, UH will have only lost one player (Denommé) from this year's squad. The tale of the tape in 2000 will be getting over the hump in winning the close games, netting the key overtime goal and staying healthy.

It's no longer about getting the respect the UH soccer team so richly deserves -- it's already earned that.
 

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