A Look Back At The 2016 Soccer Season
The Mean Green Won Their Third Straight Regular-Season Title
DENTON – The 2016 Mean Green soccer team was picked by the league’s coaches to finish first in the Conference USA preseason poll this past summer. This was not surprising since North Texas had won the last two regular-season titles, but it was a little bit of a surprise since the Mean Green had lost seven starters to graduation. There were many questions going into the season, but the core of John Hedlund’s team was returning and they were determined to continue the program’s winning tradition.
Led by the senior tri-captains Rachel Holden, Marchelle Davis and Anna Flobeck, the Mean Green set a school record by winning their third straight regular-season conference title. Their goal of capturing their second straight C-USA tournament title and advancing to the NCAA Tournament fell just short as the team lost in the semifinals to Florida Atlantic, ending their season.
Despite the early loss to end the season, the 2016 Mean Green soccer team will go down in program history as one of the most talented and deepest squads. Hedlund believes in defense first, and the 2016 team was no different. The defense recorded seven shutouts and featured two goalkeepers, both of whom earned C-USA Defensive Player of the Week honors during the season. Sophomore Carissa Sanders was voted second-team all-conference for her steady play throughout the season at the central back position.
North Texas also continued its winning ways at home, setting a school record with a 17-game consecutive home win streak, dating back to the 2015 season. North Texas went 9-0 at home in 2016, giving up more than one goal in a single game just once. The Mean Green also extended their unbeaten streak at home against conference opponents to 39 games, which is tied for the longest in the nation.
The season started off on a high note as North Texas won its season opener, 4-0, against Incarnate Word. The victory was significant for Hedlund and the Mean Green soccer program. It was the head coach’s 300th career win with all 300 victories coming at North Texas. He became the 20th NCAA Division I women's soccer coach to reach that milestone.
North Texas started the season 4-0 before heading out west to face Pac-12 opponents Oregon State and Oregon. The Mean Green tied a physical Oregon team 0-0 in overtime, and then could not keep up with Oregon’s depth two days later, falling 3-0.
The team returned home to defeat Texas Southern 7-1, led by Holden’s hat trick. The senior forward had started her freshman campaign by scoring three goals against TSU, and had accomplished the feat again three years later. Holden finished the season by scoring in double-figures for the third time in her career. She was named to an all-conference team for the fourth straight year and is ranked in the top 10 in the North Texas record books in career points, career goals and career game-winning goals.
One of the Mean Green’s toughest challenges of the season was playing a ranked Arkansas squad on the road. North Texas had not beaten a ranked opponent since defeating No. 21 Denver in 2003. The No. 25 Razorbacks scored an early goal and North Texas could not find the equalizer.
The Mean Green’s next challenge came the following week with another road game against Texas. North Texas played well but gave up an own goal on an unfortunate play. That goal proved to be the gamewinner for the Longhorns.
North Texas went straight from Austin to Houston to face Rice in its C-USA opener. Despite giving up an early goal, North Texas turned it around with Holden scoring the next two goals to give the Mean Green the much-needed win. Holden earned C-USA Offensive Player of the Week honors for her play.
The Mean Green had to play from behind a second straight game after Marshall jumped ahead 1-0 at home. North Texas graduate student Hailey Sutton came off the bench to score the game-tying goal and Holden scored her second straight game-winning goal.
In just her one year with the Mean Green, Sutton made an impact. She scored in three straight games and became a permanent starter with the start against WKU. She scored the Mean Green’s fastest goal of the season, knocking the ball in the net 19 seconds after the initial whistle against the Hilltoppers. She also scored the game-winning goal against UTEP in the 1-0 win. She finished the season tied for the third-most goals on the team with five.
Sutton’s emergence was needed as North Texas hit a setback midway through the season. Goalkeeper Brooke Bradley and senior Alexsis Cable, both starters, were sidelined with injuries and would not return for the remainder of the season. Bradley had emerged as the starting goalkeeper during preseason with her confident and athletic play. Cable had also earned a starting role in the central defense and had played nearly every minute since the start of the season.
One of the differences between the 2015 and 2016 teams was depth. The 2016 team had a lot more depth, and it showed as the Mean Green went 6-1 to finish the regular season without Bradley and Cable.
Junior Tori Phillips stepped into the central defender position, a spot she had played her freshman year. With just a few minutes under her belt, freshman Miranda Schoening became the starting goalkeeper for the Mean Green at the start of crucial conference play.
The 6-1 goalkeeper gained confidence with each start. She recorded a win in her first start, making three saves. She earned a shutout in her second start against UTEP, and received C-USA Goalkeeper of the Week honors after posting a shutout against Charlotte and recording a career-high seven saves against ODU. She finished the season with an 8-2 record and three shutouts.
North Texas had just one hiccup in conference play, a 3-0 loss to UTSA. The Mean Green started out flat in the Sunday road game against the Roadrunners and could not come back from the early 1-0 deficit. Despite the loss, North Texas tied a school record with nine conference wins.
North Texas needed a road win against FIU down the stretch to clinch a share of the regular-season title. The Mean Green jumped out a 2-0 lead but the home team tied the game, and transfer Lauryn Bruffett won the game for North Texas with a header in the 81st minute. North Texas had just one more game on its schedule: a home game against Louisiana Tech.
For the third straight year, the Mean Green could win the regular-season title outright with a victory in its final game of the season. In a game when the seniors were honored for their contributions to the game before the game, it was the seniors that won the game for the Mean Green. For the fourth time in 2016, Sutton scored the early goal for the Mean Green, putting them ahead. Davis converted a penalty kick to give North Texas the lead again, and Holden sealed the victory with a third goal.
Davis was one of the most consistent players for the Mean Green, and she picked up the pace as the season wore on. She received C-USA Offensive Player of the Week honors the last two weeks of the season and scored nine points in the last five games. She finished with a team-best 26 points.
The win against Louisiana Tech gave North Texas its third straight C-USA regular-season title. Since it joined the league in 2013, the Mean Green has won three of the four titles. North Texas won its 12th conference championship altogether.
The 9-1 record also gave North Texas a No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. The Mean Green faced a tough opponent in No. 8 Old Dominion, a team that North Texas had defeated 2-1 at home. North Texas needed overtime to defeat ODU in the quarterfinal match. Flobeck gave North Texas the lead but ODU scored in the final minute to send the game to overtime. Holden quickly gave North Texas the win with a quick goal off an assist by Sutton.
Florida Atlantic proved to be another tough match. The Owls went ahead 2-0 at the start of the second half, and North Texas had to battle back, scoring two goals to tie the game. FAU regained the lead in the 82nd minute off a header inside the box and was able to hold on for the win.
North Texas concluded the 2016 season with a 15-5-1 record, the third straight year that the Mean Green has posted at least 15 wins in a season. The Mean Green also achieved their 22nd consecutive winning season. North Texas has never had a losing season in the history of the program, and Hedlund has been at the helm for all 22 years.