Mean Green Soccer Is Back And Ready To Win Another Championship And More
North Texas Plays Oklahoma On Friday In An Exhibition Game At Home
DENTON - When the Mean Green soccer team takes the field on Friday, Aug. 12, to face Oklahoma in an exhibition game, fans will see 10 new faces.
Seven starters from the 2015 record-breaking team and the backbone of the program for the last four years have graduated. There are 10 newcomers, but there also is a strong group of returners who are still motivated to win and go further than last year's team.
"It seems like whatever group we have, they just want to keep that standard at a high level and then maybe do something that last year's team wasn't able to do," said North Texas coach John Hedlund. "This year would be trying to make a run into the NCAA Tournament."
Hedlund does not believe that this year's team is daunted by the accomplishments of previous squads.
"There is always something to motivate them. I know the players love trying to win a championship ring every year. They are proud of the rings that they have won. The freshmen coming in have never experienced that. They want to do it for the first time, and the veteran players would love to see them do it for the first time. The motivation is always there to win another title."
Despite losing seven starters, this is not a rebuilding season for Hedlund. He still has a strong nucleus of returning players, starting with senior forward Rachel Holden, who was named to the preseason All-Conference USA team for the third-straight year, and was C-USA Co-Offensive Player of the Year last season after scoring 12 goals.
But the influx of newcomers means Hedlund will have to be more of a teacher this season, a prospect he relishes.
"My coaching style is going to be more hands on than from a year ago," he said. "They have to get me, and I have to get to know them. Last year's team was such a veteran squad that a lot of things did not have to be said. I would just make adjustments during the game. This process will be more teaching, more learning."
Hedlund believes that the team accomplished a lot in the last week and a half, and that the game against Oklahoma will show who can play at that high level.
"All 26 players learned our system and figured out what role they are going to play on this team. The coaching staff got to know the 10 new faces, what their strengths and weaknesses are and if they are ready now or is going to take some more time."
Hedlund and his coaching staff are going to evaluate the entire roster during Friday's exhibition. For fans, Hedlund says they will see a highly competitive game with lots of speed and hopefully lots of goals from the North Texas side.
"We are going to find out who can play at a high level and who is not ready. OU is a very good Big 12 team. We are expecting a big crowd."
Holden, Marchelle Davis and Taylor Torres combined for almost half of the Mean Green's goals last season, and the trio will play a large role in the Mean Green's offense this year. Torres, a 2015 C-USA All-Freshman Team honoree, will take over Amber Haggerty's role next to Holden, and Davis will be back out wide.
Three transfers will be involved in the Mean Green's offense in 2016. The coaches were impressed with Katie Gernsbacher, a junior transfer from Texas, who will run the offensive midfielder position that was vacated by C-USA Midfielder of the Year Karla Pineda. Hailey Sutton, a graduate student from Texas A&M Corpus Christi, and Lauryn Bruffett from Mississippi State also bring a lot of experience.
"I think Katie will definitely make an impact for us right from the beginning with her experience at UT," said Hedlund. "Lauryn will be in the mix. Hailey will be a nice player for us coming off the bench or starting. Lauryn and Hailey can both play up top or out wide."
Hedlund thinks the biggest difference on the field will be the defense, where the Mean Green lost two center backs and a goalkeeper. He still has a lot of experience with Carissa Sanders, Chelsei Soto and Tori Phillips coming back.
But the Mean Green has a new face in goal for the first time in five years in sophomore Brooke Bradley. Hedlund likes Bradley's competitiveness, her athletic ability and her leadership.
"She is showing all the intangibles we need, and now she just needs to grow in that position." Freshmen Brittnye Loewen and Dominique James have really shined in preseason camp.
"B.C. and Dom have really stepped up. Dom will start, B.C. will come off the bench, but they both could easily be starters. They have made an impact right from the beginning. They are two solid pick ups for us."
The 10 newcomers have added quality depth to the Mean Green.
"The biggest difference from a year ago is that everyone knew what the starting lineup would be," said Hedlund. "It could change game to game this season because of all the new faces. They are going to have to fight for their starting spots, playing time, travel spots."
The Mean Green faces Oklahoma on Friday at 7 p.m. in the Mean Green Soccer Complex. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for youth. Students get in free with their UNT ID.
Fans can also get live updates on Twitter and through Gametracker. Go to MeanGreenSports.com for full game recaps and the latest news on the soccer program.