BOCA RATON, Fla. — Tori Phillips was adamant the members of the North Texas women's soccer team were going to get a ring by the end of her senior season in the days leading up this week's Conference USA tournament.
Phillips and the Mean Green will get their rings now — not to mention a trip to the NCAA tournament — after pulling out a thrilling win against Charlotte on Sunday on penalty kicks at Florida Atlantic.
The teams battled to a 0-0 tie in the C-USA final, sending the game to a five-round shootout.
UNT won 3-1 with junior Taylor Torres burying the game-winner.
"From our coaches to our bench, everyone did what they were supposed to do today," said Phillips, one of two seniors on the roster along with Cat Sebazco. "I couldn't be more proud of the hard work this team has put in. Having won a fourth conference championship in four years means everything to Cat and I."
The title was the Mean Green's 13th conference championship in 23 seasons under John Hedlund, who will take his team to the NCAA tournament for the fifth time.
UNT (14-3-4) will find out who it will play in the opening round at 3:30 p.m. Monday during the NCAA selection show. UNT last made the NCAA tournament in 2015.
UNT had to endure some anxious moments to earn a return trip to the NCAAs, but came through in the clutch after the game went to penalty kicks after a scoreless 90 minutes of regulation and two 10-minute overtimes.
UNT put defender Brooke Lampe in goal for penalty kicks and saw her come through.
Charlotte missed its first penalty kick before Phillips put UNT in the driver's seat with a goal.
Two shooters later, freshman Elle Marie DeFrain gave the Mean Green a 2-1 lead with another goal.
Charlotte missed again, which gave Torres a chance to win the game. She came through with a shot to the upper part of the goal, setting off a huge celebration as UNT's players rushed the field.
"The pressure was on and we came out on top," Sebazco said. "Pressure makes diamonds and now we get some diamonds to show for it."
Torres was named the tournament's Offensive MVP, while Dominique James was named the Defensive MVP. Natalie Newell and Natalie McDonough were named to the all-tournament team.
Torres scored a hat trick in a 4-1 quarterfinal win over Middle Tennessee on Wednesday.
James helped anchor UNT's defense that allowed just one goal in the tournament other than the penalty kick Charlotte tallied on Sunday, although the Mean Green endured a couple of scares in the final against the 49ers.
Charlotte had a loose ball nearly cross the goal line late in regulation before goalie Brooke Bradley scooped it up to keep the match tied. Charlotte had a shot hit the bottom of the crossbar, bounced right in front of the goal line and spit out on the field in the second overtime, nearly ending UNT's season.
"Charlotte was a great team and we both had chances," Sebazco said. "But we were not going home without a title."
Charlotte played most of the way without forward Martha Thomas, the two-time C-USA Player of the Year, after she left the match with a knee injury right before halftime.
Thomas helped Charlotte make a Cinderella run through the tournament as the No. 8 seed in an eight-team event. The senior scored the 49ers lone goal in a first-round upset of top-seeded and 21st-ranked Rice and came back to tally the only goal in a 1-0 win over Louisiana Tech.
Charlotte couldn't crack UNT's defense without Thomas. The Mean Green couldn't get anything going either, setting up a shootout to decide the game.
The way UNT came through late was the perfect ending Phillips talked about just a few days ago. The Mean Green came into the season having won three straight C-USA regular season titles.
UNT's hopes for a fourth came to an end late in the regular season, providing some extra motivation heading into the conference tournament.
"We absolutely have a run in us," Phillips said before the team left for Florida. "We still have a chance to get a ring and want to make a run in the conference tournament."
That run started with UNT knocking off Middle Tennessee 4-1 and Florida Atlantic 2-0. The Mean Green's win in the final was much more dramatic.
Torres stepped to the ball with a chance to win the tournament with UNT up 2-1 in the fourth round of the shootout.
Her blast sailed out of Charlotte goalkeeper Abby Stapleton's reach and into the net.
The shot clinched the tournament title and ensured Phillips and Sebazco would play in the NCAA tournament and have a fourth championship ring to add to their collection.
"We're not done yet," Sebazco said just a few days ago. "We're hungry for a fourth in a row."
That's just what UNT got with its win against Charlotte.