Defense The Difference For Mean Green Soccer Team
DENTON, Texas (10/15/09) - All season long the Mean Green soccer team has looked at their schedule for this very moment. Here they are in sole possession of first place in the Sun Belt (9-4-1, 5-0-1) and a daunting five-game road trip that will take
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DENTON, Texas (10/15/09) - All season long the Mean Green soccer team has looked at their schedule for this very moment. Here they are in sole possession of first place in the Sun Belt (9-4-1, 5-0-1) and a daunting five-game road trip that will take them to UALR, Arkansas State, Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky and Denver begins tomorrow in Little Rock at 7 p.m. Those five teams have a combined record of 41-24-5.
However, this team's confidence is at an all-time high. After a tough three-game losing streak in the middle of September, the Mean Green responded opening up conference play by going 5-0-1 and scoring 15 goals in the process. And although this is a very young team (15 underclassmen), North Texas head coach John Hedlund believes the key to this journey that awaits them is one of sport's most cliché, yet true mottos.
"I've learned with this team to take one game at a time," Hedlund said on Wednesday. "I don't get caught up in looking down the road and the standings. This is a young group and their focus has to be the game in front of them which is UALR. It's going to be a challenge for us. UALR is playing with confidence and just came off a big win over Middle Tennessee. We're not going to take them lightly."
One area that Hedlund has been able to bank on game-in and game out is the defense. Currently the Mean Green is ranked tops in the conference and 28th in the nation in GAA (Goals-Against Average). A lot of that credit goes to junior goalkeeper Mandy Hall but even she would tell you that the defense's success wouldn't be what it is without sophomore's Hannah Crawford and Shannon Gorrie.
The two outside backs have been instrumental in their two seasons at North Texas, using both their speed and agility to protect Hall from getting into any danger. Both were thrown into the fire their freshman seasons and neither have played like a freshman since.
"It wasn't hard to merge into this defense because the players are so supportive of each other," Gorrie said. "Everyone knows their role and works as one. It's a privilege to play with these girls."
North Texas did face a bit of adversity early in the season when sophomore defensive standout Kara Brooks was lost for a good chunk of the season when she fractured several bones in her face.
Enter senior Kelli Lunsford.
Known for her offensive abilities the veteran stepped in for Brooks and the Mean Green has barely missed a beat since. "She's been a big impact for us," Crawford said. "Kelli is a leader and she has the experience." Gorrie was even more adamant about Lunsford's impact when she expressed "it will be very hard to play without her next season".
It's that type of sacrifice and senior leadership that should go a long way with some of the younger players on the team. Lunsford knows the importance of setting an example. "It's not really about scoring goals and getting awards, this is just my role this season. I just want to be on the field and help this team win. Hopefully this shows some of the younger girls that no matter where John (Hedlund) puts you, you have to make the best of it for the team."
And finally there is Hall, who is having a career year. She has seven shutouts on the season (tied for second in school history with 15 total), and has the 38th best GAA in the nation of 0.66 and a save percentage of .855. It is her dominance that Hedlund believes can take this team to the next level come tournament time.
"Another year of experience has made her one of it not the top goalkeepers in the conference," Hedlund said. "When she played really well in our wins over Texas Tech and Baylor it just boosted her confidence and she took off and ran with it. She's been our most consistent player all year."
The Mean Green will be banking on their defense and a little bit of offense to get them to November. Although the road is tough this team is determined to get back to Sun Belt prominence.