Winning streak source of pride for North Texas's John Hedlund
Hedlund is the only coach the Mean Green has known and what an impressive tenure it’s been. UNT has had 21 consecutive winning seasons under his tutelage, has won 11 conference titles and been to the NCAA Tournament four times.
But that streak is what he’s most proud of.
“That’s something that we go after every year,” Hedlund said. “It just seems like when we’re winning games and have a pretty solid record throughout the season, then everything else falls into place, whether it’s the regular-season title, tournament title, going to the NCAAs.”
And he believes a big reason for UNT’s consistent success is because his teams start the season well and face tough non-conference competition so they are ready for conference play.
It’s an approach that has clearly worked. Last season, UNT set a school record with 19 victories, won the C-USA regular season and tournament titles, and capped the season with another trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Most of that record-setting group has graduated, but Hedlund remains focused on equaling if not bettering what his ’15 team was able to accomplish last fall.
“Well, we’re going to try. It’s obviously a different team. We know that, we lost seven starters and a few of those kids will be in the [North Texas Athletics] Hall of Fame someday,” Hedlund said. “That team won 19 games and broke so many school records.”
But with the Mean Green off to a 6-3-1 start, including a 2-1 victory against Rice on Sunday in their Conference USA opener, he likes what he’s seen thus far.
“We’re doing pretty well right now. We play a tough schedule,” Hedlund said. “Defensively, we’re playing pretty strong. We’ve always been known for our defense. I think we’ve got to focus a little more on our offense and start putting the ball in the net.”
On Aug. 19, UNT opened the season with a 4-0 victory against Incarnate Word, a milestone win for Hedlund and the program, his 300th as a head coach and also for the program.
He wasn’t aware of the approaching milestone until his starting goalkeeper mentioned it prior to the Mean Green’s game with Texas Tech in the 2015 NCAA Tournament. But now that 300 has come and gone, he’s more relieved than anything.
“Going into this year, I knew I was one game shy, but I really just wanted to get past that. I was more relieved getting the win and then having a good record going into our conference schedule,” Hedlund said.
Two weeks ago was interesting for Hedlund. On Friday, UNT defeated Texas Southern 7-1 in Denton and on Saturday, he saw his son, Cole, kick for Arkansas in neighboring Fort Worth at TCU, a game the Razorbacks won in double overtime.
But since his team was headed to Fayetteville to face the Razorbacks Sunday night, Hedlund had to leave that game early. However, his son and some of his teammates came out to see UNT face Arkansas on the pitch the following evening, a game the Razorbacks won 1-0.
“When I did schedule Arkansas, I was actually hoping and thinking that TCU was coming to Fayetteville [this season], but they’re not coming to Fayetteville until next year,” Hedlund said. “Cole and a lot of his football buddies got to come to the Arkansas soccer game when we played them Sunday night. They were all out there at the game, so he got to see us play them, so it was pretty cool.”
Photo courtesy Rick Yeatts