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Soccer looking to win first NCAA tournament game in school history

Soccer looking to win first NCAA tournament game in school history

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

Soccer looking to win first NCAA tournament game in school history
November 12
02:05 2015

Alex Lessard | Staff Writer

@alexlikechexmix

Three years ago, a young Mean Green soccer team with seven freshmen fell short of winning the first NCAA tournament game in school history in the first round against Texas Tech University.

Today, all seven players are back as seniors in the starting line-up with a chance to redeem themselves against the same opponent.

The rematch will take place Friday at 7 p.m against a Texas Tech (13-3-5) team that earned an automatic bid after winning the Big 12 conference tournament. It didn’t come easy for the Red Raiders, having to go through then No. 2 West Virginia University in the championship game.

With North Texas (19-3-1) leading the nation in wins this season, head coach John Hedlund said a physical matchup is a certainty.

“We’re a really physical team, a blue-collar type team,” Hedlund said. “We feel we can slow them down a little bit, but I think it’s going to be an exciting game.”

Because Texas Tech was ranked higher by the selection committee, the first round matchup will take place in Lubbock. With a home football game the following day for the Red Raiders, Hedlund said he expects a crowd of nearly 7,000 fans.

The Mean Green has experience with similar atmospheres this season. The team played two Big-12 opponents this year in addition to a road game with over 2,700 attendees at Texas A&M University in September. North Texas nearly pulled off the upset, losing 2-1 on a game-winning goal with 65 seconds remaining in double overtime.

“We played through it. We did great. They just snuck in that last goal,” freshman defender Carissa Sanders said. “It’s going to be A&M all over again. I think we’ll handle it well.”

Since then, the Mean Green has only lost one game. The hot streak carried into the C-USA tournament, where the team didn’t allow single goal. Making this all possible is an experienced back line of defense, which have helped younger players like freshman defender Carissa Sanders get up to speed this season.

“They’ve taught us a lot. I’ve learned a lot from watching Molly and Tess, the way they play,” Sanders said. “I hope I can fill their shoes next year.”

It has also helped to have senior goalkeeper Jackie Kerestine in the net behind them. She’s led the team to a 0.392 goals against average, the fourth best average in the nation. Hedlund said her leadership and athleticism has convinced him she is the best goalkeeper in the country.

“We rely on that [leadership],” Hedlund said. “We feel that if we can score a goal, we can get the win, because we can shut out most teams.”

That formula has proven successful in recent games. The Mean Green won every C-USA tournament game 1-0, getting each of its goals from different players.

However, senior midfielder Karla Pineda is looking to get on the board in the NCAA tournament after failing to record a goal or assist in the conference bracket. Pineda is second on the team in goals with seven and first in assists with eight. Even with the potential of the next matchup being the last one of her collegiate career, she said she doesn’t feel any added stress.

“There’s always pressure in big games for everyone, but I feel like a lot of people expect a lot from me,” Pineda said. “I just try to play my game and do the best as I can.”

The team set a goal for the season last spring to win both conference titles this year. Now that they’ve achieved it, making a run in the NCAAs is the final step – something Hedlund said the team wants more than anything.

“I’m really blessed with this team this year,” Hedlund said. “I’ve had so much fun coaching this team. I don’t know what we’re going to look like next year, but this year, this is probably my best team.”

Featured Image:File Photo Colin Mitchell | Intern Photographer

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