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Soccer team wins C-USA Championship, advances to NCAA tournament

Soccer team wins C-USA Championship, advances to NCAA tournament

2015 November 04 -(Photo by: Alex J. Hernandez / photobokeh.com) This image is copyright by PhotoBokeh.com and may not be reproduced or retransmitted without express written consent of PhotoBokeh.com. ©2015 PhotoBokeh.com - All Rights Reserved

Soccer team wins C-USA Championship, advances to NCAA tournament
November 08
15:32 2015

Alex Lessard | Staff Writer

@alexlikechexmix

The Mean Green soccer team came out on top in a battle for the Conference USA tournament championship against No. 2 seed Marshall University (15-4-3), winning 1-0.

With the win, North Texas (19-3-1) earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in school history and the first time since 2012.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to go to the NCAAs. Not just to go, but to make a run,” junior forward Rachel Holden said. “The senior class has experience that will definitely help us, but this was our final goal.”

The lone goal came in the 15th minute, when a North Texas throw-in was deflected towards the goal and saved by Marshall goalkeeper Lizzie Kish. However, Kish couldn’t keep possession of the save, allowing senior forward Amber Haggerty to rush in front and sneak the ball in for the score, giving North Texas an early 1-0 lead. The goal was Haggerty’s fifth goal of the season and her first in the C-USA tournament.

North Texas senior Lindsey Hulstein (10) goes after the ball during the Conference USA semifinals against Western Kentucky. Courtesy Alex J. Hernandez | North Texas Athletics

Courtesy, Alex J. Hernandez | North Texas Athletics

North Texas controlled the tempo for the remainder of the opening half and went into the break ahead in shots 12-4. Although the majority of Marshall’s opportunities were cleared by the Mean Green back line, one of its best chances came in the 39th minute. But senior goalkeeper Jackie Kerestine made a diving save to keep the lead intact.

Kerestine earned her career-best 15th shutout of the year and didn’t allow a goal throughout the entire tournament.

“Having [Kerestine] back there solidifies our defense,” senior midfielder Lindsey Hulstein said. “We have an incredible defense in front of her, but she stops things that a lot of goalies wouldn’t stop.”

Marshall came back from a 1-0 halftime deficit in the semifinals, but the second half of the championship was a different story. North Texas was able to stagnate Marshall’s offense until the final ten minutes, only allowing one shot on goal in that stretch in the 60th minute.

The North Texas defense was tested towards the end, as Marshall’s attack dialed up the intensity as time waned. Kerestine came up big in the clutch, saving a header off a corner kick with five minutes remaining to seal the victory.

North Texas finished with the advantage in both shots, 16-9, and corner kicks, 5-3, controlling possession and managing the clock throughout. With seven seniors in the starting lineup looking to get another taste of the NCAA tournament, there was extra motivation to avenge championship game losses from the past two seasons.

“It would have been incredibly heartbreaking to end our season on that note again,” Hulstein said. “We knew that we have the talent and that this was our year.”

The Mean Green has shattered the previous school record for wins in a season with 19 currently but have never won an NCAA tournament game in school history. The team is also one game away from giving head coach John Hedlund his 300th career victory.

“We’re going to be the underdogs no matter what, but our mindset is to come out strong and never back down to any team,” Holden said. “On any given day, anything can happen.”

While North Texas does not know its next opponent yet, the first round will take place from Nov. 13-15. The full NCAA tournament bracket will be announced on Monday.

Featured Photo: Courtesy | Alex J. Hernandez

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