The North Texas softball team is right where it wants to be heading down the stretch of its first season under coach Tracey Kee.
The key now for UNT is staying there as it enters a week packed with games that are either high-profile or highly important to the Mean Green.
The series begins tonight when UNT will take on No. 17 Oklahoma in a 6 p.m. game that will be televised on Fox College Sports Central. The Mean Green then will head to Miami for a three-game Conference USA series against Florida International beginning Saturday.
UNT (28-15, 12-5 C-USA) is in second place in the league standings, three games behind Tulsa (15-2) with UAB (13-7) looming behind in third.
The Mean Green’s final regular-season series is against the Golden Hurricane.
“It’s a big opportunity,” Kee said. “The way we are looking at it, our last eight games are against teams in the RPI top 50. If we could get on a little streak and knock off a few of these teams, it would be a huge benefit for us.”
UNT talked in August about what it would take to advance to an NCAA regional for the first time in program history.
Kee says UNT’s best path at this point is to win the C-USA tournament — a task that will be much easier if the Mean Green can play well down the stretch and earn a top seed.
“We are focusing on OU, but our main focus is FIU,” UNT third baseman Jordan Terry said. “That is what we are looking for. These next eight games are huge. We need to take as many as we can. This stretch could really help with our RPI.”
While winning in conference play would help the Mean Green more than anything in terms of its postseason hopes, beating the Sooners certainly wouldn’t hurt matters.
UNT already has picked up a landmark win over Oklahoma State this season.
“It’s a big opportunity,” UNT pitcher Ashley Kirk said. “There’s no pressure on us. We can have fun and just play. They are one of the best teams in the nation.”
The fact that the game will be on TV only adds to the excitement for UNT’s players, who are trying to maintain their focus just as they did earlier in the year when they beat Marshall in a televised game.
“We try to not think about it and ignore the whole TV aspect of it, but it is nice — especially for our friends and family who get to watch,” Terry said. “It does feel good to know that they are watching.”
UNT knows from experience that there will be plenty of people who tune in across the country.
“All of us are looking forward to it,” Kirk said. “When we were on TV against Marshall, I had family in California, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas watching. I know a lot of people will be watching this time.”
Track and field
Wilson sets UNT record to highlight team’s week
UNT coach Carl Sheffield and his staff thought Charlotte Wilson had an opportunity to set a new school record in the 10,000 meters this season if the right circumstances came along.
That chance came along last week in the Mt. San Antonio College Relays, where Wilson capitalized in one of the premier meets of the season for distance runners.
The senior typically competes in the steeplechase but switched to the 10,000 and posted a time of 35 minutes, 21.10 seconds against an elite field. That time shattered UNT’s school record, set by Ingrid Mollenkopf in 2011, by nearly a minute.
Sheffield credited Wilson’s performance in part to distance coach Stefanie Slekis.
“We want to improve our distance program and training culture,” Sheffield said. “We have a high-level coach, and that program is one we are really building. To put up record performances is good for its growth.”
UNT will head to Rice this week looking to build on its performance in the distance events in California and a solid outing at the John Jacobs Invitational in Norman, Okla., where Nadiyah El-Amin won the 200 in 24.02.
“She’s really showing improvement,” Sheffield said of El-Amin. “She will be under 24 seconds and high on the NCAA list after next weekend. She has been ready to run fast for the last two weeks. We might rest her this weekend.”
While El-Amin might sit out, Elisha Peters should be back in action after winning the high jump at Oklahoma with a mark of 1.78 meters.
Peters has been dealing with a quad injury and didn’t enter the competition until late and cleared on three straight heights — a performance Sheffield said is a sign of her development.
Rice will host the Conference USA meet this season, making this weekend’s meet a preview of sorts for Peters and the rest of UNT’s competitors.
“We will get to see what the facility is like,” Sheffield said. “Our throwers will get to compete there, which will be good for them.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.