Southern Miss (5-2, 3-1 Conference USA) stretched its winning streak to three games as it shocked C-USA defending champions North Texas in a 2-1 victory.
“It’s massive for our program,” Head Coach Mohammed El-Zare said about the win. “All respect to North Texas, […] but it’s huge for our program to take that step and have that result that we did today against them.”
Southern Miss’s win marked its first victory against North Texas in the series’ history. Prior to the game, North Texas held a 5-0-1 advantage, most recently with an overtime victory in the 2018 C-USA Championship.
“We’ve been just waiting for that comeback and to get a win, especially with our senior class,” senior goalkeeper Kendell Mindnich said. “We have so many leaders on this team and we’re trying to guide our younger players and just show them that this conference is so competitive and that we just have to play our game.”
Mindnich recorded a season-high of six saves in her first full 90-minute game of the season.
“Mindnich made three just outstanding saves in the first half to keep us in the game and then we [went] on to score two. That’s brilliant. She was just unbelievable today,” El-Zare said.
Southern Miss gave North Texas its first two-goal deficit of the season, with first-half strikes from seniors Caitlin Pierce and Alice Campos.
Before the season, Pierce only had one goal in her career, but her shot in the 27th minute gave her two goals this season. As a defender, Pierce says her increased role on the attack is unusual, but that she is stepping up to the occasion.
“I’m not normally a part of set pieces[,] so now being a part of a set-piece and actually putting things in the back of the net, it’s big for me because I’m never up there for the goal like that,” Pierce said.
El-Zare said Pierce’s production is the result of weeks of training during practice.
“She did her role and executed it to the tee,” El-Zare said. “When you’re doing the right things, things bounce your way and she’s just been outstanding for us.”
With Campos’s goal in the 35th minute, Southern Miss enjoyed a 2-0 lead at halftime. Pierce said the early lead helped calm the team’s nerves.
“We’ve never been up like that against a team that defends the conference championship, so we went off that field [at halftime] with some relief,” Pierce said.
Even with the lead, El-Zare tried to keep Southern Miss focused on pulling out with the victory in the final 45 minutes.
“The game is never over until the last whistle, so I was keeping them focused on that and working the game in blocks of 15 minutes,” El-Zare said.
North Texas launched a barrage of nine shots in the second period in an attempt to score.
“It was definitely hectic, but not a surprise,” Mindnich said. “This is a game that they came in thinking that they were winning but we weren’t going to let that happen here. We just had to keep calm, stay focused and play our game.”
The Mean Green converted one of its shots into a goal during the 61st minute with a strike from junior Olivia Klein.
“It was just unlucky on us,” Mindnich said. “I wish I kind of just came out a little bit bigger but I’m glad that our team didn’t put our heads down and we kept going at them and didn’t let them score again.”
With this past win, Southern Miss jumped to first place in C-USA West. The Golden Eagles will travel to play Rice on March 28 before returning home April 4 for the final home game of the season against Louisiana Tech.
“I think this [game] gives us that momentum that we need,” Pierce said. “We can go into those games headstrong. We beat UNT and we’re strong enough to beat other teams. That’s the biggest team to beat right there[,] and we did it.”