Depth Helping NT Soccer Climb National Rankings, Take On Big 12
Mean Green Depth Has NT Ranked 38th Nationally, Poised For Bears, Cowgirls
(ORV) North Texas (6-2-0) at No. 13 Baylor (6-0-2)
(ORV) North Texas (6-2-0) vs. Oklahoma State (3-2-3)
Sweeper Kelsey Hodges and goalkeeper Haley Riley have a unique perspective on the North Texas soccer program. As the only players that never leave the field during the course of a game, Hodges and Riley watch the waves of Mean Green subs weave into the game, and they've noticed what has caused opposing coaches to lose sleep this season.
"Bringing in as many quality subs as we do creates a lot of chaos for the other team," Hodges said. "Our subs are as good or better than the players that start for us. You can't even call them our second string because when they come in they create such a spark. You really don't see a big drop off in our lineup because everyone counts on our roster."
Perhaps now more than at any point of his 19-year career as the North Texas head coach, John Hedlund has the depth to be dangerous against even the country's best teams. The Mean Green has played at least nine subs in seven of the eight games this year, and each sub averages 31.1 minutes per game. What's more, NT's subs have scored five goals in 2013, which is impressive considering that the Mean Green has only allowed seven total goals.
"Most teams have clear starters and a second string, but honestly with us there isn't much that changes with from one group to another," Riley said. "Everyone is solid, so I don't have to worry about anybody. It takes a lot of stress off me. I don't have to babysit anyone."
That's a confident statement coming from a player that was a backup just a few weeks ago. Jackie Kerestine, last year's Sun Belt Tournament MVP, was the clear starter entering camp in August, but a season-ending knee injury in the year's fourth game thrust Riley in the starting lineup.
Riley's response to the starting nod has been nothing short of spectacular. The sophomore hasn't allowed a goal since taking over for Kerestine, and carries a four-game shutout streak into this weekend's action - NT's longest shutout streak since 1997. She ranks third in the nation with a .952 save percentage and sixth with a .225 goals against average.
"I don't even know where to begin describing Haley," Hodges said. "She plays with a chip on her shoulder. Everyone outside the program sees her as a backup goalie, but that isn't remotely true. She has proven herself in so many ways already, and she's showing the teams that have underestimated her."
While Riley and Hodges are secure in their roles, it can often be tough to transition from high school, and even the top club teams in Dallas, to Division I soccer. The Mean Green brought in three freshmen in 2013, and each has made the jump with conviction.
Rachel Holden has been in her own stratosphere. The Lancaster, Texas, native ranks third in the nation with nine goals, and opposing defenses are still trying to determine how to scheme for the speedster.
Allison Harper (two goals) and Anna Flobeck (1 goal) might not be lighting up the scoreboard like Holden (few in the nation are), but both have enjoyed feeling out their freshman roles with the Mean Green.
"When I go in the game, I'm just trying to do the best I can and not screw up too bad," Harper said jokingly. "You get down on yourself not starting, but John always tells us that there really isn't a difference between the starter and the bench. He's going to play the players that are going to help us win.
John's trying to mold us to get better as we go on through our career. I knew coming in as a freshman that I wasn't going to as much playing time as I was used to, but it's nice to know that I'm working towards becoming a starter for this program."