Conference USA coaches got their first look at North Texas forward Rachel Holden last season.
The latest indication of how impressed they were arrived Tuesday, when Holden was named the league’s preseason offensive player of the year.
“I was sitting in class when I got the tweet,” Holden said. “I’m excited. It’s an honor to get that award. It motivates me because I want to get that award at the end of the year.”
That scenario seems likely considering Holden scored 12 goals as a freshman and was named C-USA’s offensive player of the year in UNT’s first season in the conference. Holden’s 12 goals ranked third in the league.
The return of Holden and a few other key players was the reason UNT was picked to finish second in the C-USA preseason coaches poll. Charlotte, a team UNT beat twice last year and knocked off in the semifinals of the conference tournament, came in at the top of the poll.
UNT finished 14-7-1 last season and fell to Colorado College in the conference tournament final. The Mean Green will begin preparing to make another run at the C-USA title today when UNT opens practice.
UNT opens its season at home on Aug. 22 against Texas Southern.
“It was a surprise because we beat Charlotte twice last year and have them at home this season,” UNT coach John Hedlund said. “I thought we would be picked to win it, but we did lose six seniors, including the defensive player of the year.”
Former Guyer standout Kelsey Hodges was UNT’s top defender a year ago during her senior year.
Hedlund and Holden both expressed confidence in UNT’s ability to rebuild without those six seniors.
“I believe that we have a really good chance to win conference,” Holden said. “We are going to have a really strong team with all of the new players coming in and the returners.”
That confidence is based largely on a core of talented veterans in addition to Holden. Goalkeeper Jackie Kerestine will be back after missing the majority of last season with a knee injury.
Forwards Amber Haggerty and Karla Pineda also return after scoring seven and three goals, respectively. Midfielder Jackie Moreau was on the all-conference tournament team and is also back.
Hedlund said he believes all three are all-conference-level players and could provide a perfect complement to Holden, who has quickly built a solid reputation in the league.
“It’s a big honor for Rachel,” Hedlund said. “She is getting the recognition she deserves.
“Every coach in Conference USA would love to have her and speaks highly of her.
“Anytime awards come up, they vote for her.”
None of the rest of UNT’s players received the same level of respect in a year Hedlund and his players believe they have the talent to win the C-USA title.
“The girls will be motivated by it, for sure,” Hedlund said of UNT being picked second and having just one all-conference player. “They were all tweeting about it.”
That flurry started after Holden received the good news of the day — that she was named C-USA’s top offensive player.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.