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Soccer clinches C-USA championship with win over Rice

Soccer clinches C-USA championship with win over Rice

North Texas senior midfielder Karla Pineda (9) dribbles the ball through two Rice defenders. Karla scored one of the two goals against Rice to help seal the conference title on Sunday. Colin Mitchell | Intern Photographer

Soccer clinches C-USA championship with win over Rice
October 25
23:46 2015

Alex Lessard | Staff Writer

@alexlikechexmix

In the final home game of the season, the Mean Green soccer team put away Rice University by a score of 2-1. The victory was the eighth in a row for North Texas (16-2-1, 8-0-1), securing sole possession of first place in Conference-USA and clinching the regular season championship.

“That’s our rival in this conference. It hurt a little bit when they beat us in the final [last year], and these seniors remember that,” head coach John Hedlund said. “They wanted to really wrap it up and get that one seed tonight on the home field and be back-to-back champions.”

Prior to the game, the eight-player Mean Green senior class was ceremoniously honored with flowers and personalized framed jerseys, setting the stage for one of the biggest games of the season.

North Texas senior Jackie Kerestine clears the ball with her fists following a free kick in the final minutes of the game on Sunday. Colin Mitchell | Intern Photographer

North Texas senior Jackie Kerestine clears the ball with her fists following a free kick in the final minutes of the game on Sunday. Colin Mitchell | Intern Photographer

North Texas scored on its first shot for the second straight game, this time in the third minute off a throw-in from the corner by senior midfielder Jackie Moreau. The pass came right to junior forward Rachel Holden, who struck it over the keeper’s left shoulder to take a 1-0 lead.

Holden has now scored in four consecutive games and six of her past seven, raising her total to 11 goals on the season, tied for the second most in Conference-USA.

“I try not to put too much pressure on myself,” Holden said. “I just go out there and play, have fun and leave it up to whatever happens.”

The Mean Green survived multiple counter-attacks in the next 15 minutes to hold its lead, and the aggressive attack did not stop. Senior midfielder Karla Pineda put North Texas up 2-0 on a shot from nearly 35 yards out that sailed perfectly over the heads of the opposing defenders and goalkeeper, assisted again by Moreau.

“The stars come out for this type of game,” Hedlund said. “[Holden and Pineda] are tremendous players. They’ve done so much for the program from day one. That’s when we need them, in games like this.”

Pineda was inches short of another goal on a nearly identical shot as her scoring effort in the last minute of the opening half. This one came on a free kick from 30 yards out, but it was saved and knocked over the crossbar.

North Texas junior forward Anna Flobeck (14) attempts to gain control of the ball following a throw in on Sunday. Colin Mitchell | Intern Photographer

North Texas junior forward Anna Flobeck (14) attempts to gain control of the ball following a throw in on Sunday. Colin Mitchell | Intern Photographer

The North Texas defense maintained its lead for much of the second half, slowing the pace down during stoppages and saving everything that came close to putting the Owls (9-6-2, 5-3-1) on the board. But after making a diving save just two minutes before, things changed in the 72nd minute. Rice’s Nia Stallings snuck behind the Mean Green back line and avoided an offsides call to make the score 2-1.

The action intensified for the final 18 minutes, and the Mean Green held strong. Despite missing an opportunity on a 74th minute breakaway from freshman forward Taylor Torres, Kerestine made two crucial saves down the stretch to secure the victory, finishing the game with six saves.

Hedlund’s squad has tied a school record with 16 wins this season and will have an opportunity to earn its highest win total in school history in the final game of the season.

“We came out like never before. Even [Hedlund] said it at halftime,” Pineda said. “It’s just amazing the way we played and the way we ended the year at home.”

Before heading to Miami, Florida for the C-USA tournament, the regular season will come to a close with on Friday, Oct. 30 on the road against Louisiana Tech University. The game will begin at 7 p.m.

Featured Image: North Texas senior midfielder Karla Pineda (9) dribbles the ball through two Rice defenders. Karla scored one of the two goals against Rice to help seal the conference title on Sunday. Colin Mitchell | Intern Photographer

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