John Hedlund sat in his familiar folding chair on the sideline of the North Texas soccer team’s brand new home field on a sizzling evening earlier this summer.
Music blared from video board at the end of the field as his players scrimmaged on what they call one of the best surfaces they have played on.
A lot has changed over the course of Hedlund’s time with the program. The Mean Green’s season-opener against Northwestern State on Thursday will mark another milestone — UNT’s first game in its new $13.6 million soccer/track venue.
Hedlund drove by UNT’s old field recently and thought back on all that has transpired during his time with the program.
Hedlund came to UNT as an assistant men’s soccer coach. He started the women’s team in 1995 after the men’s program was discontinued and hasn’t looked back since.
UNT’s first game on its new field is also the beginning of the Mean Green’s 25th season.
“I have always wanted to build something that everyone can be proud of, not just the athletic department and the university but also the players who have played here,” Hedlund said.
There is little doubt that is the case. UNT has played in the NCAA tournament six times, won 15 regular season or conference tournament titles and never suffered through a losing season.
The Mean Green have won 49 consecutive conference home matches since last dropping a league game in Denton on Oct. 31, 2008.
UNT’s current players credit what Hedlund has built for fostering that streak.
“We take an enormous amount of pride in home games and winning and will again this year, especially with it being the 25th year and being the first team to play in this amazing $14 million facility,” junior midfielder Logan Bruffett said. “That is incredible. There is a lot of hype. Everyone is super excited.”
The reasons for that excitement are clear when one looks at the history of UNT’s program. The Mean Green played on a converted high school football field the last 11 years and what amounted to upgraded recreational fields before that.
“It’s a great setting,” Hedlund said. “The surface is unbelievable. It’s going to feel a little different.”
UNT made several memories at its old field over the years.
The challenge of continuing that tradition and a run of never suffering through a losing season is one the Mean Green’s players take seriously this year, which is shaping up to be a golden opportunity. UNT will host the Conference USA tournament at the end of the season.
The Mean Green won the C-USA regular season and conference tournament titles last season and took Texas A&M to double overtime in the NCAA tournament before falling.
“We have a reputation as a program that we want to keep,” senior defender Natalie Newell said. “The 25th anniversary is such a big mark. We want to win another conference title and make a run in the NCAAs.”
Hedlund’s latest team is one of his more intriguing of the last few seasons. The Mean Green have 15 new players this fall to go along with several returning standouts.
Defender Dominique James was C-USA’s player of the year and was also a third-team All-American last season. Sophomore goalkeeper Kelsey Brann led C-USA with an 86.1 save percentage.
Hedlund knew what he would get from those veterans heading into the season but was curious to see how the rest of UNT’s lineup would fair during a pair of exhibition games on the road at South Florida and Central Florida.
UNT fell to USF, the 18th-ranked team in the country, 2-0 before coming back to tie UCF 3-3 after giving up a late goal.
“This team has a lot of talent and is deeper than most teams we have had in the past,” Hedlund said. “If the goals are coming, we will have another great year.”
Those goals always have for the Mean Green during their remarkable run under Hedlund.
UNT will enter a new era in its 25th season on Thursday with a new field, a new locker room and a place to call home.
“Having a nice field and being able to host the conference tournament is huge,” Newell said. “That could help us get into the NCAA tournament and make a run. The facility will help us with our home field advantage.”