John Hedlund took a look at what transpired during one of his most successful seasons at North Texas, the players he had returning and what awaited in Conference USA, and made what he thought was a sensible decision.
Hedlund loaded up the Mean Green’s nonconference schedule — one he says will prepare UNT for a run at a second straight NCAA tournament berth.
UNT will play four Big 12 teams and two teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference next season.
The Mean Green has spent the spring preparing for that schedule and will play its final game before the fall on April 20, when UNT will face rival SMU.
“I wanted to put a lot of tough teams on the schedule because we have a veteran team with six seniors,” Hedlund said. “This should be another strong team. We want to get back to the NCAAs and make a run. That is our goal.”
UNT finished 16-4-2 last season and won the Sun Belt Conference regular-season and tournament titles in its final season in the league. The Mean Green won all three of its tournament games by 1-0 scores, including a win over Florida International in the championship game.
Former Guyer standout Kelsey Hodges is among the Mean Green’s returning seniors who have continued to play well this spring. Hedlund said Hodges is garnering interest from professional teams.
UNT also has goalkeeper Jackie Kerestine and forward Amber Haggerty back. Kerestine was named Most Outstanding Player of the Sun Belt tournament, while Haggerty scored the game-winning goal in the final.
Hedlund put together a schedule highlighted by a home game against Oklahoma State, a neutral-site game against Virginia Tech and games at Wake Forest, Oklahoma, TCU and Baylor.
“Those six teams could be in the top 25 and a couple of them could be in the top 10,” Hedlund said. “That should help our RPI heading into Conference USA.”
UNT also will face a tough conference schedule with games against Rice, Tulsa, UTEP and Colorado College.
“Playing a tough nonconference schedule should help us get ready for those teams,” Hedlund said.
UNT did lose two of its top offensive players in Michelle Young and Carly McDowell, who scored 10 and five goals, respectively, last season.
UNT has spent the spring adjusting to playing without both. Haggerty and Karla Pineda have shown signs they could help fill the void. Haggerty scored eight goals last season while Pineda tallied seven.
“Haggerty and Pineda will be big-time players for us who will score a lot of goals,” Hedlund said. “They are both freshmen with a lot of potential.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.