North Texas soccer secured its third-straight Conference USA Championship with a 5-2 victory over the Florida Atlantic Owls (15-4-2, 8-2-1 C-USA). The Mean Green (15-5-1, 8-2-1 C-USA) have now notched six straight years with either a regular-season conference championship or tournament championship.
This was the first time the conference tournament has been hosted by North Texas in Denton and head coach John Hedlund felt that the home advantage helped propel the Mean Green to the title.
“It’s special when you can do it at home,” Hedlund said. “The fans really showed up throughout the tournament, especially today.”
This was the fourth game in 21 games this season where the Mean Green scored five more goals. It came in a matchup that was expected to be low-scoring, with North Texas and Florida Atlantic holding the top and second spots in goals-allowed in C-USA.
“[There’s] a lot of pressure that we put on defenses, goalkeepers,” Hedlund said. “Both teams have very explosive players with a lot of speed. It’s almost like a track meet out here today. Today was a day of goals.”
Four North Texas athletes were named to the C-USA All-Tournament Team: senior defender Natalie Newell, junior midfielder Brooke Lampe, Most Valuable Offensive Player Allie Byrd and Defensive Most Valuable Player Dominique James.
Being one of the younger girls on the team, Byrd is proud of the team for clinching the conference and for earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships tournament.
“It feels really good to win my first ring and help the seniors win their fourth,” Byrd said. “I’m really proud of this team. I’m excited for the competition that we’re going to face.”
Three Owls were named to the All-Tournament Team as well: senior forward Elisha Holmes, senior midfielder Jessica Montiero and senior forward Pernille Velta.
The two programs played earlier in the season, with Florida Atlantic coming out on top 1-0 in Boca Raton. Hedlund was pleased that the team was able to come back and avenge the loss, but was focused more on just making it to the final game.
“They’re a very good team,” Hedlund said. “But we didn’t care who we played. We wanted to get to this game specifically.”
Newell kicked off scoring on an unassisted goal 13 minutes into the first half. This was Newell’s second goal of the season and sixth of her career. Florida Atlantic forward Elisha Holmes got the Owls on the board shortly after at the 18′ mark, assisted by forward Pernille Velta.
Sammy Vitols put Florida Atlantic ahead with 13 minutes remaining in the first half off an assist from Velta. Sophomore forward Olivia Klein wrapped up the first half scoring at 38′ off a pass from junior forward Berklee Peters to tie things up 2-2.
The sole carded handed out during the match was a yellow card given to James for a slide tackle in an effort to avoid a 1-on-1 matchup between the Owl forward and goalkeeper Kelsey Brann.
The second half was run by the Mean Green, as they scored three unanswered goals to clinch the match. Nine minutes into the second half, junior midfielder Logan Bruffett found the back of the net and gave North Texas its second lead of the day. The Mean Green never looked back, with Byrd scoring both of her goals in the second half to cushion the lead.
With the exception of Newell, every scorer in the match is slated to return to North Texas for the 2020 season.
Lampe did suffer a blow to the head from a Florida Atlantic player attempting to headbutt the ball. She left the game momentarily but was back in before the match concluded.
The two goals that Brann allowed pushed her total to 14 on the year, 26 on her career and three for the conference tournament. After recording 12 shutouts in the 2019 season, Brann is allowing .62 goals per game.
North Texas soccer faced their third different style of weather in as many days in this match. The opening round Wednesday matchup brought rain and lightning that delayed the game to finish around 12:30 a.m. Thursday morning. Friday’s semifinals match was played in windy and chilly conditions with the weather hovering around 42 degrees. Sunday brought the sun and 74-degree temperatures at kickoff.
“We will be ready for anything: cold weather, rainy weather,” James said. “We’ll play through anything, but it was really nice to come out here. You know, with Texas, you never know what you’re going to get.”
The Mean Green will find out who they will play in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Monday, Nov. 11 during the NCAA Selection Show, which begins at 3:30 p.m. This will be the third year in a row that North Texas will compete in the tournament, with the past two years ending in losses at the hands of Texas A&M (1-0) and Texas (3-0), respectively.
Featured Image: Freshmen forward Allie Byrd dribbles through defenders to get in position to score against Florida Atlantic on Nov. 10, 2019. Byrd scored two goals and won Most Valuable Offensive Player in the C-USA championship. Image by Zach Thomas