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COLUMN: Reflecting on one of the best sports years in North Texas history

COLUMN: Reflecting on one of the best sports years in North Texas history

COLUMN: Reflecting on one of the best sports years in North Texas history
June 18
13:00 2021

As graduate pole vaulter Michael Gonzalez finished his season at the NCAA Track and Field Championships last week, the 2020-2021 year came to an end for Mean Green sports teams. One of the most prolific seasons in North Texas history, many teams on campus found success or at least had a chance at it.

Beginning with football in August, North Texas looked to find success in a COVID-19 stricken season. Football showed potential to compete throughout the season but ultimately struggled to find consistency in conference play. An early thrashing at the hands of rival Southern Methodist University appeared to set the tone for the rest of the season. 

Winning three conference games against Rice University, Middle Tennessee State University, and the University of Texas-El Paso,  the squad mustered a 4-6 record on the season. After gaining a bid to the Myrtle Beach Bowl, football simply had no answer for Appalachian State University, stumbling to a 56-28 loss. The bright spot all season for the team was Jaelon Darden, who ultimately broke the program’s 17-year NFL Draft drought in being selected in the Fourth Round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

As fall shifted into winter, men’s and women’s basketball began with high hopes. Led by a breakout season from sophomore forward Quincy Noble, women’s basketball achieved its most Conference USA wins ever (11). The Mean Green finished No. 3 in the C-USA West regular-season standings, clinching a dance with Old Dominion University in the C-USA tournament. Although forward Emma Villas-Gomis dropped 24 points against ODU, the team fell 71-66 to end its campaign.

The men’s basketball team, led by head coach Grant McCasland, made North Texas history during its season. Having a similar regular season to the women’s team, men’s basketball also finished No. 3 in the C-USA West. However, the men were able to win the C-USA tournament with a couple of emotional victories versus Louisiana Tech University and Western Kentucky University

With those wins, men’s basketball clinched a spot in the NCAA tournament as a No. 13-seed versus No. 4-seed Purdue University. In the most iconic win in North Texas history, guard Javion Hamlet led an upset victory over the Boilermakers, marking the first NCAA tournament win in program history. Men’s basketball ultimately fell in the Round of 32 to Villanova University, but the win put the program on the map nationally.

Softball turned in what was its best season of all-time (program-record 38 wins) with a team comprised of 14 underclassmen (58.3 percent of the roster). Under the direction of third-year head coach Rodney DeLong, softball started slow in some early tournaments but came into its own during conference play. After two conference-opening losses, softball went on a tear for the remainder of the regular season to win 18-straight conference games and take its first outright C-USA regular season title.

The team’s greatest achievement, however, came on an out-of-conference trip to Arkansas-Pine Bluff on April 11 and 12. Senior pitcher Hope Trautwein threw a perfect game in which she struck out all 21 batters faced. It is believed to be the first immaculate game in NCAA history. Led by Trautwein and going into the C-USA championship as the No. 1-seed, softball won its first game against WKU but lost the next two versus UAB and WKU to end its season. Even though the season ended in a disappointing way, softball charted one of the best seasons in North Texas history.

Both golf teams found success in the 2020-21 season. Women’s golf took home the C-USA team championship and junior Audrey Tan took the individual title, while the men’s team fell just short of the team title but freshman Vicente Marzilio won the individual championship. Tan and the women’s golf team were also victorious to end the season in the Let Them Play Classic.

Finally, the men’s track and field season saw multiple records broken. Starting with the C-USA Indoor Championships in February, the men landed a record-breaking eight athletes on all-conference teams and placed No. 2 collectively, the highest indoor mark in program history. 

Then in May at the outdoor championships, the Mean Green earned five all-conference honors and placed No. 4 with junior javelin athlete Zion Hill taking home an individual title. After posting multiple career-high marks in pole vault at C-USAs and NCAA Preliminaries, Gonzalez was the lone North Texas athlete to make it to Eugene, Oregon, for the NCAA Track and Field Championships.

The 2020-21 season saw heartbreak and triumph for North Texas, but left one statement undeniable — This year was one of the best in Mean Green sports history.

Featured Illustration by Miranda Thomas

About Author

Reed Smith

Reed Smith

Senior Sports Writer.

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