Soccer freshman’s hot start impresses coaches, teammates

Soccer freshman’s hot start impresses coaches, teammates

Soccer freshman’s hot start impresses coaches, teammates
September 24
13:57 2013

Akshay Mirchandani / Staff Writer

On Aug. 23 freshman forward Rachel Holden made her debut for the Mean Green soccer team in its first game of the season against Texas Southern University. She scored her first collegiate goal in the 22nd minute, her second in the 47th minute and a third in the 57th — a hat trick that helped the Mean Green get its first win of the season, 9-1.

“I was really happy,” Holden said. “I wanted to score three goals, that was my goal.”

Holden didn’t stop there. She recorded another hat trick on Sept. 15 against Oklahoma and has won Conference USA Player of the Week twice. She is second in C-USA and third in the nation in total goals with 10, and also leads C-USA in game-winning goals with three – all in the first eight games of her collegiate career.

But for head coach John Hedlund, the goal scoring isn’t what he thinks is the most impressive part.

“Her composure, just the way she handles pressure, the way she’s able to handle the physical contact and the double teams at times. Obviously when we need a goal she comes up big for us,” Hedlund said. “The maturity level is pretty much off the charts with her. She doesn’t play like a freshman — she plays more like a junior or senior.”

Holden, from Lancaster, Texas, was home-schooled and did not play soccer for a high school. Instead, she participated in club soccer, which is common for many college players.

“I don’t think it’s unusual,” Holden said. “High School is more for fun, but club is more competitive and that’s where most college coaches recruit from.”

Hedlund’s program doesn’t recruit from high schools, focusing instead on club teams. Holden came from the North Texas Sting, a club team coached by Antonio “Tatu” Pecorari. Hedlund and Pecorari played together on the Dallas Sidekicks in the ‘80s, a now defunct team that was part of the Major Indoor Soccer League.

“She came off of one of the most highly-profiled club teams,” Hedlund said. “Her coach being Tatu was the connection to try and get her here.”

Holden played for the Sting for three years. Pecorari said Holden is a hard worker which part of the reason she has had so much success.

“She’s a fighter. Sometimes it’s not pretty, but she gets the job done. She hustles, she works hard and she’s not one of the prima donnas that don’t roll her sleeves and go to work,” Pecorari said. “She’s the kind of kid that if you need her to slide tackle, she’ll slide tackle. You need her to dive to the ball, she’ll dive to the ball. She’s a fighter, she’s a winner.”

Holden said she has adjusted well coming from home-schooling. She took college classes for dual credit in high school, which helped her get ready for the academics of UNT. Her teammates have also helped her adjust to college life.

“If I have a question, someone can answer it,” Holden said. “They just help me with little things like school and the soccer aspect of it. They are all just very welcoming.”

Senior forward Vanessa Ibewuike played for big-name schools like University of Texas and Purdue University before transferring to UNT last season. She called Holden one of the top-five players she’s ever been on the field with.

“At the end of the day, results matter,” Ibewuike said. “Regardless if it’s one goal and that’s the game winner or if it’s three goals and a hat trick. If you can put the ball behind the back of the net, you’re producing something for your team and that’s going to rank you high.”

Regardless of her early success, Holden said she is still adapting to the college game.

“I’m still adjusting, honestly,” Holden said. “But I think experience will help me with that.”

Last season, graduated forward Michelle Young led the team with 10 goals in 23 games. Holden reached that in just nine games, with 10 more to play plus the Conference USA tournament.

The program record is 26 by Marilyn Marin in 2002.

Hedlund said that Holden will keep growing and become even better during her time at UNT.

“She has all the intangibles to continue this success, not just this year, but for the next three years after this,” Hedlund said. “She’s just going to continue to get better because she has that mindset and has that attitude. Great kid, great character and she wants to improve.”

Feature photo by Harris Buchanan / Staff Photographer 

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