Freshman defender has instant impact in her first season

Freshman defender has instant impact in her first season

Freshman defender has instant impact in her first season
September 12
02:08 2019

Despite it being her first year playing collegiate soccer, freshman defender Taylor Hunter has turned heads with her play on the field. So far this season, she has started in all but one of North Texas’ games (at Memphis). She also currently has the third-most goals on the team (2) behind junior midfielder Logan Bruffett (3) and junior forward Berklee Peters (5).

“She’s been a surprise to us,” head coach John Hedlund said. “She’s been able to play at a really high level from the start. I mean, we knew she was going to be good but she’s one of the bright spots as far as freshmen coming in and contributing right away. It’s been really great for her to step up early for us and help our defense.”

Since the age of four, Hunter has been playing soccer right in North Texas’ backyard — she attended Guyer High, where she played varsity soccer as a freshman. During Hunter’s last year in high school, her team won the Bi-District championship and earned a national Top 10 USA Today ranking. The Guyer product was elected team captain and awarded the 2019 District Defender of the Year.

For Hunter, North Texas was one of her top choices, along with Texas Christian, Abilene Christian and Northwestern State. Despite visiting 14 schools, she decided to commit to North Texas to stay close to home. The Denton native mentioned that attending North Texas would help her parents attend her games — which was something that was important to her.

“[Hunter] comes from a sports family and they do a tremendous job of supporting her, which is great,” Hedlund said.

Another reason she decided to play for the Mean Green was because of Hedlund’s coaching as well as seeing the success the Mean Green have enjoyed over the years.

“I heard a lot of good things about the program,” Hunter said. “I knew this is a championship program and I heard good things about [Hedlund]. He’s a really good coach and he’ll make you better and that’s really what I’m here for.”

While at Guyer, Hunter was coached by former Mean Green goalkeeper Mandy Hall, who holds North Texas’ record for all-time career saves (223). According to Hedlund, Guyer was a popular place to recruit from due to it being one of the best soccer programs in the state. His connection with Hall played a significant role in Hunter’s recruitment process to North Texas.

“[Hall] and I have a great relationship,” Hedlund said. “We go back and forth on players. Guyer is one of the top high school programs in the state, so we’re always trying to keep those local kids here. [Hall] is one of the first coaches I call and she’s pretty accurate on her assessment on players.”

Upon Hunter’s arrival, she drew several positive reactions from her teammates and her coaches. Junior midfielder Logan Bruffett’s first impression when she met Hunter could be summed up to one word: tall. Hedlund also recognized her athleticism in concert with her height. The 6-foot-1 defender is listed as the tallest athlete on the team roster.

“Coming in, you don’t think [Hunter]’s a freshman because she is very tall, very athletic and she came in fit,” Bruffett said. “We noticed those things immediately, as upperclassmen who have prepared over the summer, [we] take this very seriously. She’s not going to need a whole lot of adjustment time, we knew she was already there.”

When it comes to the differences between high school and college soccer, Hedlund pointed out the significant changes in the speed of the game as well as the physicality. He emphasized how crucial it was for players to come in with a high level of confidence.

“It’s a more physical game, but it’s a faster game,” Hedlund said. “If you could come in with a lot of confidence and you have that composure on the ball, regardless of who you’re playing, you can have success in this game. For most freshman, it takes some time to adjust to the speed, [Hunter] handled it right away and her confidence only stayed high, which is important.”

One of the things that Taylor has been lauded for is her versatility. As a defensive center back, she is the last line of defense aside from the goalkeeper. Her ability to score as well as strike a soccer ball 50-60 yards is something that Hedlund talked about when it came to her attributes.

“I knew that she was going to be someone who’d contribute and she already has,” Bruffett said. “Playing defense and being able to score while playing center back, that’s incredible.”

When it comes to the starting lineup for games, Hedlund said that he doesn’t aim to play upperclassmen players exclusively. Hunter being in the starting lineup serves as an example to younger players that they too can earn a starting position despite their classification.

“We’re going to play whoever we feel can play at this level,” Hedlund said. “We had a big recruiting class and [Hunter] cracked the lineup right away. Now if they look at the lineup and it’s consistently juniors and seniors, then they’re thinking, ‘Well my time is maybe next year,’ which it doesn’t have to be. So [Hunter] leads by example in that department.”

Featured Image: Mean Green freshman Taylor Hunter takes the field during practice on Sept. 4 2019. Image by Brody Thomas

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Matthew Suarez

Matthew Suarez

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