Miami, Fla. - North Texas will return home from the second annual Sun Belt Conference Soccer Tournament with plenty of hardware to show off: trophies for a regular season championship and a runner-up finish in the tournament, not to mention awards for five all-conference players and three all-tournament performers.
But the one trophy the Lady Eagles had in their sights all year - for the SBC tournament championship - will be going to Denver after the No. 3-seeded Pioneers held off top-seeded North Texas, 2-1, in Saturday afternoon's championship match.
Denver, which had lost to North Texas by the same 2-1 score in a game in Denton in September, controlled the ball and the game for most of the 90:00 of regulation, staking a 1-0 halftime lead and building a 2-0 lead early in the second half before North Texas was able to get on the scoreboard.
But even with Carrie Kveton's successful penalty kick past Denver goalkeeper Erica Izard at 79:56, North Texas never could mount any offensive momentum. "Denver is an outstanding opponent and I knew it would be hard to beat them twice in one season," said North Texas head coach John Hedlund, whose Lady Eagles finished the season with a 13-4 record after advancing to the Sun Belt's tournament championship game for the second consecutive year.
"I'm proud of the way we played in the second half," he added. "We got down by two goals and had the wind against us. But we kept battling and then got the penalty kick goal. We gave ourselves an opportunity to tie the game. You can't ask for anymore than that. I can't say enough about what this team has accomplished."
The Lady Eagles, with a squad that included 13 freshmen this season, struggled to combat Denver's quickness to the ball and the Pioneers' crisp passing. Denver mounted a dominating 15-1 edge in shots during the first half and wound up with a final 24-9 advantage on the offensive end.
Although North Texas sophomore goalkeeper Monica Housden came up with nine saves in the game, the Lady Eagles defense couldn't completely withstand the Denver attack. The Pioneers first scored on a short chip shot by Jenni Harris
on a nice crossing pass from Maggie Kirchhoft just 5:07 into the game. Then 3:29 into the second half, Denver upped its lead to 2-0 on a goal off a header by Camile Flenniken.
North Texas avoided the shutout after redshirt freshman forward Melinda Pina - joined by Marilyn Marin and Angela Carter on the all-tournament team - was fouled by Denver's Liesl Becker in the goal box after getting a short-range shot stopped by Izard. Kveton, one of two seniors closing out their North Texas careers, took the penalty kick and sent it past Izard into the lower left corner of the net. But after that, the Lady Eagles were never able to make any offense threat and penetrate the Denver defense.
"They destroyed us in the air," said Hedlund. "Our game is sending long balls into the corners and they probably won 90 percent of the balls in the air. That's where they won the game. They completely dominated in the air."
Marin, who wasn't able to get her first shot in the game off until early in the second half, finished with four shots to lead the Lady Eagles. Pina ended with three. Kveton and Alyssa Carrier had the only other shots for North Texas.
Denver 1 1 - 2
North Texas 0 1 - 1
FIRST HALF - Denver, Jenni Harris (Maggie Kirchhoft), 5:07
SECOND HALF - Denver, Camile Flenniken (Kirstin Warren), 48:29; North Texas, Carrie Kveton (penalty kick), 79:56.
SHOTS - Denver 24, North Texas 9.
SAVES - Denver 5, North Texas 10
CORNER KICKS - Denver 6, North Texas 9
FOULS - Denver 14, North Texas 18
GOALKEEPERS - Denver, Erica Izard; North Texas, Monica Housden.
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