Article Originally Published by Ryan Lochhead on North Texas Daily
Article Originally Published by on North Texas Daily
The North Texas women’s soccer team are the favorites to win the Conference USA tournament, according to the league’s preseason coach’s poll released earlier this month.
The team has been at the top of the C-USA standings for the past 5 seasons which includes back-to-back C-USA Tournament wins and two NCAA tournament appearances.
The Mean Green offense lost its two top goal scorers, Aaliyah Nolan and Taylor Torres, to graduation. The team will rely on the remaining returners to push the 15 new players, including first-team all-state selection Allie Byrd.
Head coach John Hedlund emphasized that the team is now a mix of new and old players.
“We have our share of veterans and we need that because we have so many new, young players,” Hedlund said. “They will need to be pushed in the right direction to understand what Division I soccer is all about [and] how fast and physical it is.”
North Texas splits the captaincy between Brooke Lampe, Nataile Newell and Logan Buffett, but is led on the field by center-back Dominique James, who was voted the preseason defensive player of the year. James has high expectations for this team as they compete for their sixth consecutive conference championship and try to make their presence known in the NCAA tournament.
“We want to win that NCAA game,” James said. “For me, a ring is an expectation. As long as everyone is doing their job you know you can reach that next goal.”
James is coming off a season where she was named C-USA’s Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in addition to being the first player in program history to be named a third-team All-American.
“This year I hope to be first-team All-American,” James said. “We want to have the most shut-outs and be the best defense we can be.”
Redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Kelsey Brann returns for her second year with the Mean Green after being named to the All-Conference freshman team. Hedlund believes she has stepped up to lead beyond her years.
“A big leader for us is someone like Kelsey in goal for us,” Hedlund said. “She’s only a sophomore but she really acts like a junior or senior to us.”
The Mean Green gave up 13 goals last season with Brann in net, earning her a C-USA best .8 goals-against average. She is expecting to perform even higher in her second season behind this veteran defense led by James.
“I think the success had to do with the chemistry we had on the team last year,” Brann said. “My confidence kept going up and up as the season went on. I’m going to try and beat my shutout record from last year.”
Hedlund has been at the helm of the North Texas women’s soccer program since its birth in 1995. During his tenure, he has amassed 15 conference championships, including five consecutive since moving to C-USA in 2014. Hedlund expects the dominating streaks to continue as he prepares his team for the 2019 season.
“We’ve been here 25 years, this program, and have never had a losing season, I don’t know what that feels like,” Hedlund said. “We have a really great record at home, we haven’t lost a conference game in 10 years. What motivates me is trying to keep these streaks going.”
Despite success in 2019, the Mean Green saw their season end in the NCAA tournament. The team lost 1-0 on a late overtime goal at Texas A&M in 2018. They will be looking to not only defend their championships but also make an impact in the national tournament.
“We want to defend our titles, we want to go to the NCAA tournament and we’d like to make a run,” Hedlund said. “If we could host a game or two that’d be incredible, we’ve never done that, we’ve always had to go on the road.”
Overall, the team’s quest for a sixth straight championship will depend on how quickly the incoming freshman class can acclimate to the college level. While young, they are highly regarded and carry the same weight of expectation as the veterans, according to Hedlund.
“It is a young team, but it is a very talented team,” Hedlund said. “I am really hoping these young players begin to separate themselves. I know the veterans will be there, we just have to get the young players up to that level, particularly at the end of the year.”
Featured Image: Mean Green freshman Allie Byrd passes the ball towards UNT midfielders during their game against Northwestern State on August 22. Image by: Zachary Thomas.
Source: North Texas Daily