Small In Stature But Not In Play
Torres And Munguia Have Been Paired Up Top For The Mean Green
DENTON - From a visual perspective, the odds looked daunting.
The North Texas soccer team was playing Baylor in Waco in the first game of the spring season on Feb. 25. The Mean Green’s two forwards, both around 5-foot in stature, were being defended by tall Baylor Bears defenders. Yet sophomores Taylor Torres and Sabrina Munguia proved that size doesn’t matter. With their quickness and technical play, they pressured that strong defense and created opportunities for their team.
The Mean Green emerged with a 2-1 victory, and the Mean Green coaches have a new pairing that has potential for the fall season. Torres and Munguia have been impressive in spring practice and will look for another good performance up top on Saturday, March 25, when the Mean Green open their home spring season against Tyler JC at 2 p.m.
With the graduation of all-region player Rachel Holden and all-conference offensive midfielder Marchelle Davis, North Texas was losing the majority of its scoring power. Holden and Davis combined for almost half of the Mean Green’s goals in 2016, and head coach John Hedlund was in need of possible pairings and connections at the forward position.
“The spring season is about looking at different systems and experimenting with your entire roster, playing players in several positions and trying to see what works and what doesn’t” Hedlund said. “Spring gives you a great idea of what can possibly work and help you win games heading into the fall. One of the question marks for me was to see if Taylor and Sabrina could play together up top, be effective and have that chemistry between the two where they both can be very productive and help us win games.”
Torres is a likely candidate for one of two starting sports at forward with her strong play the last two seasons. The sophomore started 20 of 21 games at forward in 2016, scoring two goals and dishing out three assists. As a freshman, she started only seven games on a senior-laden team but still managed 10 points and was named to the Conference USA All-Freshman Team.
“Taylor has a high soccer IQ,” Hedlund said. “She understands the game extremely well and sees a lot of things out on the field that most players simply don’t. As her conditioning continues to improve and she is able to play heavy minutes for us up front, there is no question in my mind she has the ability to be one of the leaders next fall in goals and assists.”
Munguia, with her quickness and flashy play with the ball, was always impressive in practice but wasn’t able to break into the starting lineup her first two years. She has played in 28 games, all from off the bench.
“I think when Sabrina came in she probably wanted more playing time because she is so competitive,” Hedlund said. “But look at our roster the last couple years and look at the success rate we had. It’s hard to crack the starting lineup. Maybe this is her chance now going into the fall.”
One of Sabrina’s most memorable moments last year was in the win against Louisiana Tech when the Mean Green scored two goals with a man down to defeat the Lady Techsters and secure the Conference USA regular-season title. The sophomore saw just three minutes of action, but she drew a foul in the penalty box after taking on a defender. Holden converted the penalty kick, securing the win.
This ability to take on defenders and become a threat is what the Mean Green coaches like about Munguia, especially in the February game against Baylor.
“Sabrina was aggressive against Baylor,” Hedlund said. “I thought she made some really solid runs trying to get behind their four defenders throughout the game. I really liked both Sabrina and Taylor’s ability to high pressure Baylor’s defenders. They both made it very tough on them playing the ball out of the back. We always look for players up front to be a threat throughout the game and I thought both Taylor and Sabrina showed that consistency throughout the match.”
Hedlund was also impressed with how Torres and Munguia played together and played off each other. He saw the chemistry and the potential the two of them have.
“We get each other,” Munguia said. “There are some people you can individually be good with, but if you can’t connect with one another, it’s not going to work up top. We have to finish. I think we played really well during the Baylor game and hopefully it keeps going like that for the rest of the spring season and into the fall.”
Hedlund and both players will admit it’s a work in progress. The biggest problem for the two lies in the fact that they might be too similar.
“A lot of people underestimate us due to size but we are both fast,” Munguia said. “We think alike. It’s the communication thing we have to get ahold of. We are both thinking the same runs.”
Chimes in Torres, “we can’t do that!”
The two have been running into each other at practice - and getting yelled at - because they are thinking about making the same run. But they’re confident that if they keep talking, they’ll be fine. They do have some subtle differences. Munguia is slightly taller than Torres at 5-1. They agree that Munguia is quicker, while Torres is more patient.
“I like her speed,” Torres said. “She is a lot faster than I am so if a ball is played into space, I know she will be there. She is quick on the ball.”
“She is more patient with the ball,” Munguia said. “Once she controls it, I just make sure I make my move in order to receive from her. She is a little more patient, while I’m go, go, go. So, we balance each other out.”
Their size has never been a hindrance. The only problem they have is on kicks from the goalkeeper, so they always remind the Mean Green goalkeeper Brooke Bradley not to kick them the ball because it is tough winning those 50/50 balls against tall defenders.
“If we touch around them, size is not a problem,” Munguia said. “It has its pros and cons, but it’s how you use your body. John always tells us constantly to get big.”
“I’ve had smaller players before that have been very successful, like Michelle Young and Kendall Juett two of the very best to wear a UNT uniform, Hedlund said. “They played liked they were 6-feet tall. Both played with a chip on their shoulder, very aggressive and physical at times. When you’re 5’1, you can still play at a very high level and be successful but you have to play like you are 6-feet tall. That’s the point that we have to get to with Taylor and Sabrina.”
Torres sees it as a benefit because other teams underestimate them.
They both say they have “hops” and are very proud of their work in the weight room. They’re two of the strongest players on the team, squatting nearly 200 pounds.
Hedlund sees tremendous potential.
“We are going to continue to look at both of them up front and see if we can get the chemistry where it needs to be,” Hedlund said.