North Texas Daily

After losing core seniors in offseason, Mean Green soccer evaluating talent in spring practice

After losing core seniors in offseason, Mean Green soccer evaluating talent in spring practice

April 05
15:21 2017

Now a junior, goalkeeper Brooke Bradley stood inches from the left post of the goal on a Thursday afternoon. With the sun beating down, Bradley eagerly awaited the next flurry of shots. As she gazed across the box, she saw assistant coach Fleur Benatar standing 10 yards out to an angle.

In an instant, she fired a shot to Bradley’s right.

Without hesitation, Bradley extended in a full dive and knocked the ball away. As she hit the ground, sophomore goalkeeper Miranda Schoening tossed the next ball in the air with just enough time to test Bradley without making it impossible. The ball crept below the crossbar until Bradley leapt to her feet and punched the ball over the crossbar and out of play.

Then it was Schoening’s turn.

The two are competing for the starting goalkeeper spot in the fall, and they approach practice, even in the spring, with a certain sense of urgency – something head coach John Hedlund has come to expect from his team over the years.

“[Competition] is everything,” Hedlund said. “It’s what motivates players more than anything.”

While the keepers exhaust themselves, assistant coach Daniel Dobson has the remaining players doing drills and other exercises continuously, making sure there’s an enjoyable environment at practice.

North Texas has three soon-to-be seniors, one of which is midfielder Katie Gernsbacher. In her second spring season in Denton, Gernsbacher understands these spring practices are both a combination of staying sharp and enjoying the time with the new faces in the locker room.

“The intensity is still there, we just get to have more fun,” Gernsbacher said. “We’re still trying to score [in practice] and the loser is having to do pushups or situps, so everyone is still competitive.”

After losing five seniors in the offsesason, the three-time regular season Conference USA champions have been hard at work over the past weeks. Tasked with replacing five players who started at least 10 games last year, Hedlund and the rest of the coaching staff are using the spring to evaluate talent and order the depth chart.

In an attempt to regain some of what they lost immediately, Hedlund got three early enrollee transfers from schools including the University of Arkansas and Texas Tech University.

The new faces alongside the returners mean new tendencies and habits everyone must pick up on. To aid in building team chemistry, players have been spending time off the field with one another in hopes of being ready to go come fall.

“We’re really working on our team chemistry,” senior forward Cat Sebazco said. “We see each other every day, [and] we’ve been working on blurring the lines between our classes and trying to become a family and a team.”

The drastic change in personnel has even left Hedlund contemplating changing the team’s formation to a 4-3-3 for the first time since 2012. While a lot of the spring season is experimenting and observing, Hedlund understands the difficulties of regrouping after losing four players who each had three conference championship rings.

“It’s obviously different,” Hedlund said. “We’re going through some growing pains right now and we’re trying to figure out where we are as a team, who are our leaders [and] what formation we’re going to play next fall.”

Despite all the changes, it appears as though the raw talent on this team is still enough to carry them to victory while the new players are integrated. So far this spring, North Texas has picked up wins against Tyler Junior College and Baylor University.

Hedlund has managed to fill many of the voids with recruiting, but now the competition will come into place. Positions like striker, goalkeeper and centerback all have uncertainty, and will likely come down to who outplays the competition this spring.

“It’s going to be wide open in several positions, starting with the goalkeeper,” Hedlund said. “We should be able to at least double up at every position.”

Even though the regular season is over four months away, Hedlund is adamant about implementing competition early.

For the final 30 minutes of Thursday’s practice, the team was split up into two sides and the field was shrunk to about 40 yards as Bradley and Schoening took their respective goals. Hedlund grabbed a folding chair and watched from the sideline, as the two teams of nine went back and forth with the intensity of a fall practice.

He loves watching his team go at it.

“[The competition] really drives them in every way to be the best player they can be,” Hedlund said. “That’s in conditioning, in the weight room, on the practice field – and obviously in games.”

Featured Image: Head Coach John Hedlund at practice. Colin Mitchell

About Author

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune is the Senior Sports Writer for the North Texas Daily, covering football and men's basketball.

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