he North Texas soccer program has plenty of reasons why it shouldn't have succeeded. Yet, 18 seasons and eight conference titles later, head coach John Hedlund and the Mean Green are poised to take on the best Conference USA has to offer, and bring the national soccer spotlight to Denton.
It's a team that spent its first decade playing home games on intramural fields - which history has demonstrated to be a death sentence for programs. But it has never posted a losing season.
It's a team that was begun in answer to gender equity; not out of love of the game but out of a need to adhere to Title IX. But it almost immediately became the most successful program on campus.
It's a team that was formed by a coach who was hired to run a different team. But he is still the only coach the program has known, and is one of the winningest active coaches in the nation.
Hedlund's motto is succinct and simple, and his players have heard it over and over and over. "Just win, baby."
That his teams have lived up to that motto with such consistency is a remarkable, improbable story.
The Beer Barn field, as it came to be known thanks to the bright red drive-through beverage joint next door, has reached near-mythical status among North Texas soccer alumni. Ask a former player about their old home and you'll usually get a chuckle, followed by a horror story they carry with them like a badge of honor. Sitting in the shadow of the old north endzone scoreboard of Fouts Field, this patch of grass is where the women's team got its start in 1995, and, to say the least, it lacked the amenities of big-time facilities.
Locker rooms? Nope. Player's lounge? No way. Concession stand, bathrooms or press box? Yeah, right. The Beer Barn field barely had electricity, which made public address and a scoreboard nearly impossible.
The Beer Barn field was simply a field next to the Beer Barn, but it gave John Hedlund a place to put his soccer vision and contacts to work - and that's all he needed.
9•2•95 - North Texas' first match. Lisa Whitfield scores the Mean Green's first goal in a narrow 3-2 loss to Texas Tech. One day later, NT beats LSU,
4-2, for its first win.
10•6•96 - First conference game. North Texas shuts out Utah State, 2-0, in its first match in the Big West Conference.
9•18•98 - North Texas earns a
2-1 overtime upset of the 24th-ranked SMU Mustangs in Dallas, the Mean Green's first win over a nationally-ranked opponent.
10•31•99 - Michelle Brody scores with 19 seconds left in overtime to lift North Texas to a 2-1 victory over the Texas Longhorns in Denton.
9•1•00 - Carrie Kveton converts two PKs and the Mean Green rally from a 2-0 deficit for a 3-2 OT win over No. 9 SMU, the highest-ranked team NT has ever beaten.
10•27•01 - North Texas captures its first conference championship, taking the Sun Belt's regular-season crown with a 7-1 record in league play.
11•5•02 - Marilyn Marin leads the NCAA in goals, points, and points per game, and earns the Sun Belt Play of the Year award, the first such honor for North Texas.
11•6•04 - Alyssa Carrier's header with eight seconds left in the Sun Belt Tournament title game sends North Texas its first NCAA Tournament berth.
11•19•05 - Krista Davey, with 38 career goals and two All-Region honors, becomes the first women's soccer player inducted in the North Texas Athletics Hall of Fame.
8•31•06 - North Texas opens the Mean Green Soccer Complex, and Kristen Campbell's goal 91 seconds into OT lifts NT to a 2-1 opening-night win over Houston.
11•8•07 - In its eighth-straight trip to the Sun Belt Tournament finals, North Texas tops WKU, 3-1. In 13 years in the Belt, NT reached the final 10 times.
10•25•08 - Marilyn Marin, the best scorer in school history and still ranked eighth in NCAA history, is inducted into the North Texas Athletics Hall of Fame.
10•28•11 - Kelsey Hodges scores a goal on a free kick from beyond midfield for a 1-0 victory over Denver, a win that secures the Sun Belt regular-season title.
11•3•12 - John Hedlund becomes the 25th coach in Division I history to reach the 250-win plateau with a 1-0 victory over FIU in the Sun Belt Tournament title game.
2013 - North Texas embarks on its first season in Conference USA.
Click the soccer balls for significant moments in Mean Green soccer history.
The path to 250 wins and three NCAA Tournament berths as the women's coach actually started in 1994, when Hedlund was seeking his first win as the new head coach of the North Texas men's soccer team. Legendary skipper Dr. Richard Lowe had just retired, and the former Dallas Sidekicks standout was the rightful heir to step into Lowe's shoes.
"I was excited when I was named the head coach of the men's team," said Hedlund, who had been the assistant coach under Lowe for three seasons. "I rolled up my sleeves and started to put a roster together. I went out and recruited, which I love to do. I put a pretty strong team together, one that I thought could compete with SMU."
But that team never took the field. Gender-equity initiatives forced the North Texas athletic department to drop the men's soccer and tennis teams in favor of women's programs. Hedlund got the bad news, and had the unfortunate duty of passing it along to his new squad.
"The longest walk of my entire life was the one from the athletic director's office to the team meeting room," Hedlund said. "Telling the guys the program was cancelled was one of the toughest things I've ever had to do."
Still, the meeting with the athletic director came with a silver lining. Although the men's program was being scrapped, the admin couldn't think of a better coach for the new women's program than Hedlund. After helping many of the players from the now-defunct men's team find a new place to play, Hedlund got started on building the women's team.
He handpicked a few of the best players from the successful women's club team on campus and filled out his roster with a handful of area freshmen and a couple of transfers. Club-squad holdovers Mary Chisenhall and Cristi Hendrickson provided the leadership on 1995's inaugural team, while Michelle Pratz and Lisa Whitfield brought the firepower. The result was an 11-6-1 season with victories over LSU, Mississippi State and Kansas.
The North Texas women's soccer program was born. But to take the next step, Hedlund knew he needed to steal a recruit or two from the regional powers in the fertile fields of DFW.
Enter Krista Davey.
Krista Davey, Christy Johnson, Marilyn Marin, Melinda Pina, and Heather Hutrya
It takes a magnetic player to build a program around; a dynamic athlete with gravitational leadership that makes other dynamic athletes want to jump aboard the bandwagon. Krista Davey was that player for the Mean Green soccer program. Little did she know at the time, Davey was the first domino that set North Texas soccer in motion.
Davey's four career hat tricks and 38 goals attest to her scoring ability, but she was much more than that. She was a three-time First-Team All-Big West Conference and a two-time First-Team All-Region selection that led her team to a 51-22-3 record over four seasons. Her 24 career assists wouldn't be topped until 2003, and she still ranks among the top 10 in every major North Texas career stat category.
Still, her biggest accomplishment might have been the fact that others wanted to play beside her - especially the second domino, Christy Johnson.
Johnson, who graduated in 2000 as the program's leader in goals, points, shots and games started, teamed up with Davey to defeat the likes of Arkansas, Oklahoma (twice), Oklahoma State (twice), SMU, and LSU.
With these two future North Texas Athletic Hall of Famers on board, NT went from 11 wins in Davey's freshman season to 13 victories in 1997 and 1998. The program posted a breakthrough 14-win season in 1999, and that convinced a once-in-a-generation high school player that she should wear Mean Green.
Her name was Marilyn Marin, and all she did her freshman season was score 24 goals en route to a Freshman All-America nod and help North Texas knock off No. 9 SMU and win 15 games. The two-time Sun Belt Player of the Year scored a mind-boggling 88 career goals and still ranks eighth in NCAA history with 2.71 career points per game.
As a sophomore in 2001, Marin teamed up with the next domino, freshman Melinda Pina, to win the program's first Sun Belt Championship. Fifty-one career goals later, Pina and the Mean Green went to their first NCAA Tournament in 2004 thanks to another freshman domino, Heather Hutyra, who would also take North Texas back to the tournament in 2005.
Davey begat Johnson, who begat Marin, who begat Pina, who begat Hutyra. It sounds like a story straight out of the Bible, but these North Texas dominos joined Hedlund in laying the foundation of one of the most successful programs in the region.
All they needed was a facility to call home.
One sign that your sports venue isn't considered a premier facility is that it takes its named from a nearby landmark. For example, no one ever called the Cotton Bowl the "Stadium Next to the Ferris Wheel."
So with a home field nicknamed by the local faithful as the "Beer Barn Field," Mean Green soccer was looking to move up from the program's earliest days.
North Texas did upgrade the soccer team's facilities in 2002, but not by much. The Mean Green moved across I-35 toward the Denton airport to a newly-acquired piece of land across the street from the Peterbilt truck factory. What did people call this new facility? You guessed it, the Peterbilt Field.
While the Peterbilt Field didn't have locker rooms, a press box or scoreboard, Hedlund preferred to look at what the field did have.
"We finally had stands, bathrooms, a concessions stand and electricity," Hedlund said. "Plus, the place had some personality and atmosphere. It was the first place we could really call home."
Much like the old digs at the Beer Barn Field, the Peterbilt Field had its charm. When factory crews were painting the big rigs, noxious fumes rolled over the field. Parking was a nightmare, forcing cars to dodge 18-wheelers rolling out off the assembly line and slide into a spot along the two-lane road that ran between the factory and the field.
Somehow, North Texas made this unusual home-field advantage pay off. In four years at that field, NT went 33-2-2 (91.9 percent) and celebrated two Sun Belt regular-season titles and two SBC Tournament titles. The three highest scoring players in school history, Marilyn Marin, Melinda Pina and Heather Hutyra, did the majority of their damage on that field, and led the Mean Green to the NCAA Tournament in 2004 and 2005.
Sun-Belt Rivals: North Texas coach John Hedlund and Denver coach Jeff Hooker
The strength of the Mean Green also helped develop intense rivalries with regional opponents. Denver head coach Jeff Hooker, a veteran of over 270 career wins, and Hedlund somehow nurtured a friendship though the bitter competition their programs shared on the field. NT and Denver met in five Sun Belt title games, and Hedlund still considers the 2003 overtime victory over a ranked Pioneers squad among his most satisfying wins.
Hedlund's teams have won eight conference championships and earned three trips to the NCAA Tournament.
Entered 2013 ranked 18th in the nation among active Division I soccer coaches with a .703 win percentage.
In 2012, Hedlund became the 25th coach to reach in NCAA Division I history to reach the 250 wins plateau.
Hedlund's teams have produced 61 all-conference players, and he has won three coach of the year awards.
Ranks third in the nation among active coaches for most consecutive winning seasons (18) at one school.
After years of championships, talent and rivalries, North Texas finally felt like it had arrived with the introduction of the Mean Green Soccer Complex in 2006. At long last, Hedlund had a place to display his conference championship trophies in his headquarters, which included office space, locker room and team meeting room, as well as a sports-medicine facility and a real stadium.
"We got goosebumps," said an emotional Brittany Rose (then Cleveland) about walking onto the Mean Green Soccer Complex turf for the inaugural game, one that saw NT defeat rival Houston in double-overtime dramatics.
Rose was one of 14 players to earn a letter at both the Peterbilt Field and the Mean Green Soccer Complex, which puts her in rare company. She can attest to paint fumes and parking troubles at the beginning of her career, and the sheer joy of running out of your own locker room to a packed stadium on senior night.
The same North Texas soccer magic followed the Mean Green to its new place. NT entered the 2013 season with a 57-8-5 (.850) record at the Mean Green Soccer Complex, and they've won each of the last two Sun Belt Conference titles.
A total of 26 all-conference nods have been handed out to NT soccer players since the move to the Mean Green Village, which has helped transform the look of the entire athletic department. Without the Village, which includes facilities for soccer, volleyball, softball, basketball, golf and swimming, as well as the North Texas Academic Center, the jump to Conference USA might not have been possible.
And before playing his first game in the new league, Hedlund is already the dean of the conference's coaches, with more wins at North Texas than any other coach in their current job.
Total victories for Conference USA women's soccer teams under the program's current coach:
The move to C-USA means increased visibility, budgets and support for all of North Texas' sports, and perhaps no other Mean Green team will benefit more than Hedlund & Co. After all, NT soccer is already fielding a championship-caliber team stocked with Texas talent and a three-time conference coach of the year.
Not bad for a guy who began his coaching career next to a Beer Barn.