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Bench players gives UNT soccer an edge

Bench players gives UNT soccer an edge

Bench players gives UNT soccer an edge
October 15
11:10 2013

John Lugo / Staff Writer

With challenging games looming in the conference schedule, the Mean Green soccer team (9-5-1, 3-2-1) is utilizing its bench players to bring more energy late into games.

What head coach John Hedlund expects out of the bench players is often referred to as the “spark” of the game. When starting players begin to get tired and need a rest, he looks to the bench to provide what the starters might lack in that particular game.

“What we look for more than anything is players coming off the bench that give us a spark, that give us a lift,” Hedlund said. “If it’s an offensive player, we’re looking for someone to get that goal that we’re needing or that assist, or a defensive player to step up and make a block or play.”

Hedlund said he trimmed his usual bench rotation of eight or nine players during nonconference play to four or five in the past games. With the stakes of each conference game becoming more important as the season goes on for the Mean Green soccer team, his focus is on keeping a consistent rotation with the players that have proven they provide that spark.

“We still have a lot of depth on this team, but I like to get fresh players out there as much as I can, especially since a lot of these games are won and lost in the second half,” Hedlund said. “I don’t want to wear players out.”

However, coming off the bench isn’t seen as a negative idea on the team. For some players, coming off the bench is an advantage for multiple reasons.

“At the beginning of the game you can see what the starters are doing good and what you actually need to fix in the game when you go in,” junior midfielder Leah Cox said. “If there’s something that the coaches are looking for that the starters aren’t doing, then coming off the bench you can try to accomplish that.”

There’s also less of a spotlight or tendency for quick judgment.

“If you don’t immediately have a good start, it’s OK because you can see what other people are doing before you,” senior forward Lynda Hercules said. “It is less pressure because since you aren’t starting, not all of the eyes are on you immediately and then you kind of get to build your confidence as you go out.”

Both Cox and Hercules have primarily come off the bench this season. In UNT’s last match against the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Hercules played 55 minutes – more than two starters – and scored an assist. She has two goals, four assists and 19 shots for the year while Cox has two goals and 12 shots.

Players can also see playing off the bench as a source of motivation. Hedlund said it could do wonders for a player’s confidence and allow him to go back to her when needing another spark.

“It can sometimes come across as a motivation,” Cox said. “If we’re not doing so well in the game, it can be more nerve-wracking because he’s really going to need that spark to pick the team up and try to get the win.”

Hedlund also dispelled any idea that there are issues within the team when a player gets benched in favor of another. He has spent the season thus far watching how developed the players are and how much their conditioning allows them to be on the field.

“Everybody knows it’s very competitive and we’re very deep as a team,” Hedlund said. “Those are all my decisions, but we haven’t had issues or problems with players as far as attitudes and lack of playing time.”

When it comes down to it, the players just focus on contributing as much as they can for the duration of their time on the field.

“I’m just trying to look for my opportunities,” Cox said. “As long as I’m getting half the game I’m fine with that.”

Junior midfielder Leah Cox takes control of the ball during a home game against UTSA on Friday. Feature photo by Harris Buchanan / Staff Photographer

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