North Texas Begins 2017-18 Campaign With Sense Of Certainty
Mean Green Take On Little Rock Saturday
Fans of the North Texas swimming and diving program will hear and see those words many times throughout the season across social media and from the squad’s coaches and student-athletes. But to the Mean Green, the moniker is more than just a team hashtag.
“It speaks to their determination coming into this season,” North Texas head coach Brittany Roth said. “Right now, we’ll go head-to-head with anybody. We’ll take on any challenge that comes our way.”
After hosting multiple preseason exhibitions, North Texas opens the 2017-18 campaign on the road against Little Rock this weekend. With only three newcomers, the team doesn’t look much different but feels a better sense of certainty than this point last season.
“I’m pretty confident about the team this year,” senior swimmer Caroline Culpepper said. “We have a lot of potential. We’re already so much better now than where we were last year.”
In October of 2016, the Mean Green were grooming twice as many newcomers for their first collegiate action, and Roth was thrusted into an interim head coaching role with the departure of Brendon Bray. Now, North Texas is able to lean on Roth as the permanent head coach, and the team returns 22 members of last year’s team.
“That’s made our work in the pool a lot easier,” Roth said. “Their attitudes have been more focused on the end goal and where they see themselves at the end of the season.”
The Mean Green is coming off back-to-back fourth-place finishes at the Conference USA Championships, their highest finish since joining the league in 2013. Among the 25-person roster for 2017-18 are 17 juniors and seniors, and veteran leadership that will be crucial to the team’s success
“We have to be leaders,” Culpepper said. “The seniors really have to be an example and show them what you’re supposed to do as a team. You’re supposed to improve and work hard every day. I think the seniors do a really good job of that.”
Culpepper, who’s the second-best performer in school history in the 200-yard butterfly (2:01.37), has her sights set on Catia Weickgenant’s record time of 1:59.65. Culpepper is not alone in wanting to rewrite the record board suspended above the pool in the Pohl Recreation Center. Among the team’s returners are all seven swimmers that set five school records last season, and the bar is higher than ever for more records to fall.
“Once you do something great, the expectation is there,” Roth said. “Their teammates know that they’re making history. I lean on those girls too. I expect them to be at a different level this season than where they were last year. A lot of them carry themselves with more confidence this year because they did something that I don’t think they expected last year. Now they walk around with the expectation that they can do it again.”
In addition to the record-setting veterans, the North Texas roster is rounded out by three freshmen: swimmers Leigh Faires McGee and Micayla Morgan and diver Meghan Miller. The newcomers have made an instant impact in the preseason, as McGee secured freestyle wins at the pentathlon, the North Texas Relays and the Green vs. White meet. Miller won the one-meter and three-meter dives at the Green vs. White meet.
“I think they’re adding a tremendous amount of value,” Roth said, “not just in their times and their scores, but also personally.”
“We’re all hard workers and that’s important in being successful,” Miller said. “We all have that desire to get better.”
Miller is the lone freshman within the five-member diving group, led by coach Mark Murdock in his third year with the program. Having four returning divers familiar with Murdock’s coaching style makes it easy on him as Miller embeds herself within the team.
“It’s a great thing because they’ve taken a part of everything that I’ve tried to instill in them, like being competitive, wanting more and pushing themselves further than they ever thought possible,” Murdock said. “To have a team that has that drive before the season even starts makes it easier for [Meghan] to walk in, feel welcome and understand what’s expected.”
Murdock proposed the moniker of “It’s on,” because he couldn’t pick just one word when everyone within the program was asked to come up with a team word. While discussing his expectations for the season, he was able to land on a single word.
His desire for consistency on the girls’ dives is step one toward his ultimate goal of qualifying for NCAA zones.
“It’s something that’s eluded us for the past few years, but I know we have a good team that’s ready to put forth the effort to make it,” Murdock said.
Roth has a similar small-step, goal-oriented vision for the program. At the last two conference championships, North Texas has been outside the top-three looking in.
“We can’t look at number one from fourth place, but what we can do is look at what it takes to get third,” Roth said. “Then we can look at what it takes to get second. Then we can take a look at what it takes to be on top. We can’t make a big leap, but we can take small steps along the way and that’s how we’re going to get there.”
The Mean Green will be in the pool for the first regular-season action, a dual meet against Little Rock, at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Donaghey Aquatic Center.