Celebration

Freshman Taylor Hunter, center, jumps up and celebrates with her teammates following a goal in the first half of UNT’s 7-0 win over Northwestern State on Thursday at the North Texas Soccer and Track & Field Stadium.

Berklee Peters claimed her own little piece of North Texas soccer history during a milestone night for the program on Thursday.

The junior forward gathered a bouncing ball near the goal and fired it home to break a scoreless tie in the Mean Green’s season opener against Northwestern State.

The first goal of the season would have been significant in any circumstance.

The fact that it came in UNT’s first game on its new home field made the goal all the more memorable.

“It felt amazing,” Peters said. “I was pumped to get out here.”

The goal was a sign of what was to come for UNT, which cruised to a 7-0 win.

The Mean Green played the previous 11 seasons across the street on a converted high school football field. UNT’s new $13.6 million soccer/track venue marked a significant step forward for a program that has won 15 regular season or conference tournament titles.

UNT is aiming to add to that total in the program’s 25th season and certainly looked capable while overwhelming Northwestern State. Peters tallied two goals and was one of six players who scored on a historic night for the Mean Green.

“The girls were nervous,” UNT coach John Hedlund said. “This was new. The atmosphere we great. We had a great crowd and finally got it going in the second half. The goals started to come.”

UNT dominated the game from the start but struggled early on to convert its chances into goals. Meeting that challenge was Hedlund’s biggest concern heading into the season after UNT lost its top two goal scorers from last season in Aaliyah Nolan and Taylor Torres.

The Mean Green were shut out by nationally ranked South Florida in the first of their two exhibition games earlier this month before bouncing back to tie Central Florida 3-3.

UNT got off to a slow start against Northwestern State before Peters broke through at the 15:13 mark of the first half. The goals came quickly after that Taylor Hunter, Logan Bruffett, Elle Marie DeFrain, Allie Byrd and Olivia Klein all scored by the end of a blowout win.

“It gave us confidence with the way we scored,” Hunter said.

Those goals made the night all the more memorable. A host of UNT’s former players were in a crowd of several hundred who packed the stands.

“It was nice of them to come back,” Peters said. “They were really supportive. We wanted to show what we could do.”

UNT is hoping its outing against Northwestern State is the first step in a run-up to key series of games next month. The Mean Green will face Texas Southern on Sunday and Houston Baptist next week before games on the road at No. 22 Texas Tech and No. 20 Memphis.

Hedlund said he is hoping the Mean Green’s game against the Red Raiders will pit a pair of nationally ranked teams. That idea isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

UNT was ranked as high as No. 24 nationally last season and received a vote in the United Soccer Coaches Association’s preseason poll this year.

The key for UNT to making that goal a reality is to get its offense rolling behind several young players. The Mean Green’s strength is on the defensive end, where it has defender Dominique James and goalkeeper Kelsey Brann.

James was a third-team All-American last season, while Brann is one of the elite goalkeepers in Conference USA.

James and UNT’s defense made sure Brann didn’t have much to do on Thursday. Northwestern State didn’t record a shot on goal.

Peters and a host of other players took care of the rest while tallying goal after goal.

“We have been working this week on getting behind the front line and working with our midfield,” Peters said.

The payoff was significant as UNT made its first game on its new field one to remember.

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.

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