Despite losing core seniors, Mean Green soccer poised to contend again in 2017
Matt Brune | Staff Writer
With eight conference titles since 2001, head coach John Hedlund has built the Mean Green soccer program into a steady machine of quality players. Last year’s senior class included five players who all played a key role and started at least 10 games in Marchelle Davis, Hailey Sutton, Rachel Holden, Alexsis Cable and Anna Flobeck.
Despite losing those five players and defender Chelsei Soto, Hedlund and his two assistants have found seven recruits who they hope can have an impact as soon as they step on the field at North Texas in the fall. They have three transfers on the way as well.
The soccer machine stops for no one.
“We’re bringing in a total of 10 players,” Hedlund said. “We feel we’ve covered every area [of the team]. I feel pretty good about this recruiting class.
All of the newcomers passed the first task of impressing assistant coaches Fleur Benatar and Daniel Dobson throughout the recruiting process. Benatar has plenty of experience recruiting the DFW area, as she was the head coach of the Texas Woman’s University soccer team for 11 years.
When it comes to analyzing recruits, she admits there’s a lot that goes into it.
“There’s a lot of things we look for initially,” Benatar said. “The overall body physique, first touch, their body language and their overall production.”
Recruiting local or at least within Texas has been North Texas’ mantra during the Hedlund era. Every player except one from last year’s team was from the Lone Star state, which comes as little surprise — the Dallas-Fort Worth area has some of the top high school and club teams in the state.
With top-echelon talent in his own backyard, Hedlund doesn’t see a need to go too far out of state.
“[Dallas-Fort Worth] is really our recruiting base,” Hedlund said. “We tend to stay in Texas because the state is loaded with players every year. We’re in [our] comfort zone and I think players are as well when they come here from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.”
Now a sophomore, defender Dominique James was one of the highly touted recruits Hedlund and his staff were able to bring in. The staff took a risk on her, however, especially with James coming off two injuries.
The setbacks even left James questioning if she would play soccer at the collegiate level.
During the recruiting process, James experienced what thousands of athletes across the country encounter once the courting starts — tons of phone calls and visits as she weighed her options.
“[Recruiting started] my junior year of high school,” James said. “[I was contacted] often. They called me during class and I’d have to go out in the hall and talk to [coaches] and then I’d get emails and stuff like that.”
The same process happened with all of the incoming freshmen this season, and Hedlund felt a slight sense of urgency after losing the leadership and talent from those five seniors. As the fall season approaches, he has already set the standards high for those incoming players and expects them to really elevate the team.
“There’s actually a few that I think have the potential to come right in and start right away,” Hedlund said. “And there could be others as well. I think the competition is going to be great.”
Hedlund went on to name midfielder Elle-Marie DeFrain as one of the players that he could see coming in and making an impact right away.
Although he is a stern coach on the field, all of Hedlund’s players value his critique and coaching. It’s this kind of character — the willingness to be coached — that Hedlund looks for in recruits, and has resulted in almost two decades of winning records and championships.
“When they have high character, they’re a lot easier to coach,” Hedlund said. “They’re going to work really hard for you and always be in shape.”
While character and resilience and other intangibles are something all of the coaches look for when recruiting players, it is often one of the hardest things to find out about a player.
“It’s hard to gauge,” Benatar said. “Sometimes they can get up here and it’s better or it’s not what you thought. It’s taking a chance a lot of times, but over time we get to know them as a player and we feel we get the right match.”
The 2017 freshman class will have more pressure on them than in a usual season because expectations are raised for the three-time defending C-USA champs. However, expectations were raised in recruiting as well, setting up one of the more intriguing and pivotal classes, according to Hedlund, North Texas has seen in a few years.
“This is a really good mentally tough and physically strong class,” Benatar said. “They’ve come off of high-profile teams and they’re competitive [and] those pieces will be an asset for our team immediately.”
Featured Image: All the players and coaches of the UNT Mean Green women’s soccer team summarize their practice on the UNT soccer field. Koji Ushio
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