The North Texas soccer team will enter a key Sun Belt Conference game against Middle Tennessee on Thursday with its highest ranking of the year.
The Mean Green ran it unbeaten streak to eight games last week with wins over Arkansas State and Arkansas-Little Rock, pushing UNT to 12-3-2 on the season.
UNT is ranked eighth in this week’s NSCAA/Continental Tire south region poll, one spot in front of MTSU.
The teams will play Thursday night in a game that could determine the Sun Belt regular-season champion.
MTSU is unbeaten in league play at 8-0, while UNT is 7-0-1 with two games left to play.
“I like the way we are playing,” UNT head coach John Hedlund said. “Once we get our rotation going with players coming off the bench, we seem to wear teams down in the second half. That is what we are going to try to do with Middle Tennessee. They only bring two to three players off the bench, while we bring eight to nine. We are going to see if that affects them in the second half.
“It’s going to be a close, tight game either way.”
UNT will head into that game off a lopsided 8-2 win over Arkansas-Little Rock. The Mean Green won its other game last week 2-1 over Arkansas State.
MTSU has won eight straight games, including wins over Troy and South Alabama last week.
UNT aims to start late run
UNT will look to start a late-season run in Sun Belt play this weekend when it plays host to a pair of matches that appear to offer the perfect opportunity to reach that goal.
The Mean Green takes on Florida International on Friday before playing Florida Atlantic on Sunday.
Both Florida schools have struggled this year. FAU (6-13) has won only one Sun Belt match and is 1-7 in league play, while FIU (5-15) hasn’t been much better at 2-6.
UNT (18-9) will enter the weekend tied for third place in the Sun Belt West Division with a 4-4 record. Louisiana-Lafayette is also 4-4.
While UNT is only in third place in the five-team division, it is still very much in the hunt for the division title. Arkansas-Little Rock is in first place at 5-2, a match in front of Arkansas State at 4-3.
“If we play well, we can put ourselves in a great position for the conference tournament,” UNT head coach Ken Murczek said. “Hopefully we can get to 10-4, which we think will be good enough to win our side of the conference and give us a good seed for the conference tournament.”
UNT’s chances to win the division title shrunk last week when the Mean Green lost both matches on a road trip to Alabama. UNT was swept by Troy and then lost to South Alabama in four games.
The Mean Green has now lost four of its last five matches.
“We just didn’t execute very well,” Murczek said. “Both teams gave us their best matches of the season, probably, but we have to expect that after being picked to win our side. You are going to get everyone’s best match. That has been a theme for the season. We have been holding teams to hitting under .200, and we didn’t do that in either match and have been hitting over .250 and didn’t do that either. You put those two things together and you are not going to be on the right side of it.”
The biggest obstacle standing between UNT and a weekend sweep could be FIU.
“International has several foreign kids and four kids who start who are over 6-2,” Murczek said.“They are a very good team. It will be a physical match. We are looking forward to that.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is email@example.com .