DENTON, Texas -- With their Sun Belt Conference schedule now more than half over, the North Texas women (9-5-1, 4-2 Sun Belt) are sitting pretty. The Mean Green is currently riding a four-match winning streak and will host Florida International on Friday and Florida Atlantic on Sunday in Denton.
UNT head coach John Hedlund knows both of this weekend’s opponents present their own kind of tests for his club.
“Well, FIU is going to be tough. They’re actually ranked eighth in the region and we’re seventh,” Hedlund said. “They won the regular season title last year, so they’re playing pretty well. That’s going to be a good test for us this Friday. And then we pick up a game with Florida Atlantic on Sunday. I think if we can get both of those games, it will put us in second place in the conference.”
Denver (12-2-0, 6-0), who is ranked 25th nationally, currently sits atop the Sun Belt standings. UNT will face them in the Mile High City in their regular season finale on Oct. 29.
“We’re hoping for Denver to stumble before we go out there and play them the last game of the year to maybe get a share of the regular season [title] and go strong into the conference tournament,” Hedlund said. “We would like to get to the point where that last game means something and to do that, we’ve got to take care of business at home.”
Offensively, the Mean Green has scored 38 goals. Junior midfielder Julie Lackey leads UNT with eight goals while sophomore midfielder Ellen Scarfone leads the team with eight assists. But as solid as North Texas has been on the attack, they have been equally solid in the back as they have allowed just 11 goals, giving them a goal differential of +27.
For Hedlund, that strong defense all starts in goal, where 5-foot-9 senior Mandy Hall, who is 8-3-1 with a 0.70 goals-against-average and five shutouts this season, is the anchor. In nearly 1,163 minutes this season, Hall, UNT’s lone senior starter, has allowed just nine goals.
“She’s our leader. She’s our captain,” the UNT head coach said. “She’s very vocal. She’s probably the best ‘keeper we’ve ever had up here and we’re going to hate to lose her but she wants to go out a winner. She wants to win that championship.”
In front of them is a solid defense led by a trio of juniors-Kara Brooks, Hannah Crawford and Shannon Gorrie, who are the anchor of the 3-5-2 formation Hedlund prefers.
“Most colleges play four in the back with either a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 but we play three. We like that extra player in the midfield,” he said. “Those three juniors do a great job along with Mandy Hall. It’s a defense that’s extremely hard to beat. They keep us in games and once our offense gets going, we seem to be OK.”
UNT hasn’t been to the NCAA Women’s Tournament since 2006 but Hedlund sees a lot of similarities between his 2010 team and the one that went to the NCAAs for a second straight year just four years ago.
“I think this team is just as talented. The only difference is this team is a little bit younger. We only have two seniors on this team,” he said. “They have the same type of talent and the same type of character. I think we’ll put ourselves in a position to win the conference title, the tournament and go on to the NCAAs.”
“I believe you have to have the talent first and we do. You also have to have a little bit of luck towards the end of the year, stay away from injuries and the ball needs to bounce the right way in some of the games. If that happens, then I can see this team going to the NCAAs.”