Only one team at North Texas has never suffered a losing record: Soccer. This season, the Mean Green are expected to extend that streak to 25 years.
The North Texas soccer team (9-3, 4-0 Conference USA) is on track to finish the 2019 season with a 15-4 (9-1 C-USA) regular-season record, in big part to their defense. Senior defender Dominique James attributed the recent defensive success to having enhanced communication amongst the defenders and redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Kelsey Brann.
“It’s our communication,” James said. “At the beginning of the year, we were struggling with that and you could see it when we were getting scored on but now we know how to talk to each other, move around each other and work together with our goalie.”
In Sunday’s 1-0 win over the Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners (4-5-1, 0-3 C-USA), the Mean Green recorded their eighth shutout win of the season. This performance, along with the 3-0 win over Middle Tennessee (5-6-1, 2-1-1 C-USA), resulted in James and Brann being awarded conference recognition.
Brann earned the C-USA Goalkeeper of the Week award for the second consecutive week and James was named as the C-USA Defensive Player of the Week for the third straight week. James, who became the first player in program history to win NCAA All-American honors last season, is the reigning 2018 C-USA Player of the Year and Defensive MVP. The two athletes are very close both on and off the field.
“We have a really good relationship on and off the field,” Brann said. “We’re really able to understand and read each other’s body language on the field. The entire backline is very close, me and [James] are really good friends so we hang out outside of practice a lot.”
Brann’s eight shutouts leads C-USA and is three away from tying last season’s total (11), which is the second most single-season shutouts in school history.
“I think [the shutout record] is awesome,” Brann said. “Obviously, in a game, you can’t predict a shut out, but I’ve been doing my best to do my part and get the shutouts. Honestly, I wasn’t even aware of the record until a couple of days ago.”
The redshirt sophomore is four shutouts shy of tying former North Texas goalkeeper Mandy Hall (2007-10), who is second all-time for the most in school history (22). The program record belongs to Jackie Kerestine (class of ‘15) with 46 career shut outs.
“I’m extremely proud of [Brann],” James said. “This is her second year with us and she’s been a great standout for us. She’s been one of the greatest keepers I’ve gotten to play with, so I’m really excited to get to play with her. Unfortunately, this is my last year with her but you know we’re doing great things and I hope to continue that throughout the season.”
Brann has 41 saves on the year and has allowed seven goals through 11 games this season. The Mean Green have not surrendered a goal to a conference opponent this year so far. Based off the scoring statistics so far, North Texas is on pace to give up five more goals after outscoring opponents 25-9 through 12 games. Brann believes the defensive dominance they’ve shown has done a lot for the program mentally.
“I think it really helps [our confidence],” Brann said. “Obviously you want to get a shutout every single game and if the defense is doing their part, you have to rely on the offense. As [Hedlund] always says, ‘Defense wins championships,’ so as long as we’re strong, our confidence is there.”
The Humble, Texas native has aspirations to keep things consistent as the team continues their stretch of conference games. Brann hopes to use this year’s 3-0 win against Middle Tennessee as the model going forward.
“I’m hoping [the conference games] are going to be a lot like [the Middle Tennessee] game, where we just dominate the field,” Brann said. “I think that’s how it’s going to go because we have such a strong team and we’re still learning how to be more of a team as the season goes on.”
Hedlund acknowledged the strides the defense has made with James as well as the significance of Brann’s play at the goalkeeper position.
“I don’t know what we would do without [Brann],” Hedlund said. “I mean our backup is good, but she’s only a freshman. She’s learned so much under [Brann]. I said from the beginning of the year if we keep [James] and [Brann] healthy, we can really have another special year and so far, we’ve been able to do that.”