Spotlight On Mean Green Alum Fleur Benatar
Mean Green Pioneer Keeps The Alumni Connected
The pioneers of the Mean Green soccer program at this past year's alumni game - from left to right: Heather Schmidt (1995-98), Meredith Klemm (1996-98), Michelle Pratz (1995-96), Cindy Beahm (1995), Lisa Whitfield (1995-96), North Texas head coach John Hedlund, Kim Sparks (1995-98), Fleur Benatar (1996-97), Marilyn Marin (2000-03), Marnie Simmons (1995-96), Angela Rieke (1995-96).
The two constants for the North Texas soccer program over the last 20 years has been winning teams and John Hedlund. In his first year as the head coach of the Mean Green in 1995, Hedlund and his team posted a winning record of 11-6-1. For the next 20 years, Hedlund and the program have continued to produce winning seasons.
Fleur Benatar was one of Hedlund's first players, joining the Mean Green for the 1996 and 1997 seasons after playing her first two years at the University of Arkansas. Since graduating, she has become the orchestrator behind the scenes, keeping all the players from those 20 years involved and coming back for the annual alumni games.
It was especially important to get players back for this last alumni game in April because it was the 20th-year anniversary of that first season of Mean Green soccer. Close to a dozen players from those early years came back this past April to play and reflect on those early days of the program. Many of the women who came back were seeing the new facilities for the first time.
Over the last 20 years, the North Texas soccer program has won nine conference championships. After finishing playing in 1997, Benatar became an assistant at North Texas and helped coach the Mean Green to its first title in 2001.
MeanGreenSports.com caught up with Fleur to reflect back on her days as a pioneer in the Mean Green soccer program.
How did this last Alumni Game go?
"I have been a part of all the alumni games except for maybe one. I thought it was a good turnout. A lot of the old players came, which was great. I kept telling them, `It's been 20 years, you have to come out here.' I'm glad so many of the first-year, second year, third-year teams, came out."
How did you end up playing at North Texas?
"I didn't play the first season here. I was at Arkansas. My first two years I played at University of Arkansas. I'm from Richardson. After three semesters, I decided I wanted to come closer to home and have my parents see me play. I basically called John and told him I was coming to North Texas. I came in spring of 1996 so the team's first year but the second semester. There were several transfers that came in our group. John didn't recruit me, hadn't seen me play, didn't know anything about me but it was good. I had come from a good standard of play and he was ok with that!"
What was the difference in the two programs that you played with? (Arkansas and North Texas)
"Men's basketball had won the national championship at Arkansas in 1994 so the place was nuts with athletics. Arkansas had a good soccer program, established. When I was a senior at North Texas, we played Arkansas and we beat them, 5-1, right there at the Beer Barn. It's like the old story. It's not about the money. Our team was brand-new. We were passionate, we were good, we played, we won. They had everything they needed to have and we put the ball where it needed to be."
What has stayed the same from when you played?
"Winning hasn't changed and John has been here the whole time; the NTX area has lots of great players that want to stay close to home. Whatever happened in those early days stuck. John has been steady and successful. He knows how to recruit players. It is not always easy, but John has been tremendously successful. When you have the right players and you know where to put them success can come easy and for John and North Texas, that has been his legacy...winning."
How do you stay involved in North Texas soccer?
"People look to me because John and I have a good relationship--and I care about the program. I just love soccer, and I think it's great to come back and play for your alma mater. I stayed in touch with a lot of players coaching and kept in contact with them so it was easy for me to keep them coming. Everyone is really close. It was never really a plan. I reach out and get as many as people as I can. Because it was 20 years, this past alumni game was important.
We want to keep the tradition going. We really want the old players and new players to have conversations, connect and have pride in our program and school. It's a good time and we will also be true Mean Green."