By Bryan Petray
(11/4/02) The North Texas Women’s Soccer team (12-4-1, 6-2) is set to begin the Sun Belt Conference Championship Tournament Wednesday at Mobile, Ala. The Mean Green followed up its 2001 regular season championship this season by finishing second behind last year’s tournament winner, Denver's Lady Pioneers (14-1, 8-0).
The second-seeded Mean Green will open the tournament against seventh-seeded Middle Tennessee State (8-11, 3-5) Wednesday at 4 p.m. The Lady Blue Raiders’ challenge will lie in the difficult task of containing the nation’s top offensive player, UNT phenom junior forward Marilyn Marin a task they failed at miserably in the regular season tilt on Oct. 13. In the game, UNT’s all-time points and goals scorer, registered her fourth of five regular season hat tricks in the 6-0 rout of the Blue Raiders.
Marin, who leads the nation in points (67) and goals (26), has been unstoppable and figures to continue her record -setting pace with the stakes even higher in the conference tournament.
"One of our goals at the beginning of the season was to win the conference tournament," Marin said. "We’re focused on doing that."
The Lady Blue Raiders balanced offensive attack is led by former J.J. Pearce standout Laura Miguez. The 5-2 sophomore forward leads the Lady Blue Raiders with nine goals. Middle Tennessee State has never defeated the Mean Green in the teams’ brief history of three matches.
If the Mean Green advances to the next round, they’ll take on the winner of third-seeded South Alabama (8-9, 4-3) and sixth-seeded Florida International (2-13, 2-3). The Lady Eagles had little difficulty defeating both of these teams in the regular season, outscoring them by a combined total of 10-2.
Perhaps the Mean Green's biggest challenge of the tournament will be from Denver’s smothering defense. The Lady Pioneers, last year’s conference tournament champion, handed UNT their biggest loss of the season last month in a 6-1 rout at Pioneer Field in Denver. UNT midfielder Michelle Uselton scored the lone UNT goal in the Oct. 4 match-up and Denver hasn’t surrendered a goal since.
Since the Uselton goal, Denver’s stingy defense, paired with outstanding goaltending from Erika Izard (0.53 GAA, 10 shutouts) and Amber Angermeier, combined to register six consecutive shutouts while outscoring their opponents 30-0 during that span.
The two teams seem destined for a rematch this time on neutral territory in Mobile, Ala. In the three previous matches between the teams, the home team won, while Denver eliminated UNT in the tournament championship game last year 2-1 on a neutral field at Miami, Fla.
The winner of the conference tournament gets an automatic bid to the 21st annual NCAA National Championships Nov. 15-Dec. 8. The University of Texas will host the quest for the College Cup at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin.