The Southern Miss women’s soccer team made history on Sunday with their first-ever win in program history against the three-time defending Conference USA champions North Texas.
The Golden Eagles’ 2-1 win over the Mean Green now ties Southern Miss for first place in the C-USA West standings.
“It’s massive for our program,” Southern Miss coach Mohammed El-Zare. “All respect to North Texas and Coach (John) Hedlund and the job that he has done and what he has created with that program. But this is huge and massive for our program to take that step with having the result that we did today against them.”
North Texas (5-2, 2-1) had the opportunity to jump out to as much as a 3-0 lead in the first half, but goalkeeper Kendell Mindnich came up with saves each time.
“She came up big,” El-Zare said. Being a captain, we are not asking our captain to just wear the band. She leads by example. She holds everybody around her accountable, and she makes sure she can get the best out of them. Her leadership and JoAnnie Ramos, Jenny Caracheo, Ariel Diaz are just outstanding. The seniors have shown us maturity. Their leadership is critical to this win for sure.
“Kendell Mindnich had three outstanding saves in the first half to keep us in the game, then we go on and score two. That’s brilliant. She was just unbelievable today.”
Mindnich finished the game with six saves on the day. However, Mindnich gave credit to her backline as the Golden Eagles held off 17 shots and four corner kicks.
“The backline was solid,” Mindnich said. “I trust those girls with my everything. They just have to come out strong and win those first headers, especially the free kicks that came in. We were solid on all of them. We had consistency on the corner kicks and throw-ins. I’m proud of our backline for that.
“We played (North Texas) in the conference finals in 2018 and lost in overtime. We have been waiting for that comeback to come and just to get that one win, especially with our senior class.”
Mindnich’s first-half saves shifted momentum for North Texas as the Golden Eagles scored their two goals in a span of eight minutes.
Defender Caitlyn Pierce missed on scoring a goal in the 13th minute, but she managed to make up for the miss and score the first goal in the 26th minute.
“I think it’s weird being a defender (since) I’m not normally part of set pieces,” Pierce said. “Now that I’m part of the set piece and actually putting things in the back of the net. It’s big for me because I’m not ever up there for the goal like that.
“It’s hard at first because you feel like you have everything organized, and once the ball comes out, you don’t know where it’s going to put itself or drop. In my head, I’m thinking it needs to get in the back of the net. If not, then I’ll be (mad). I shanked the first one (from earlier), but the second one went in.”
Alice Campos scored in the 34th minute to give Southern Miss (5-2, 3-1) a 2-0 lead. According to Pierce, holding the 2-0 lead over the Mean Green was simply a feeling of relief.
“We have never been up on a team that defends the conference championship like that,” Pierce said. “When we got off the field, we had relief. We’ve never had an early lead like that with them.
“They defend the conference every year. They win the championship every year. This is a big step for us, and I think it shows that we are here to play too and that we can win.”
North Texas scored a goal in the 61st minute to narrow the deficit 2-1, but Southern Miss’ defense clamped down despite facing nine shots in the second half.
“The ladies (showed) their selfless act, commitment, showed their grit, and executed our game plan to the tee,” El-Zare said. “Also, to show our discipline and the mental capacity to stick to the game plan and get us through to the finish line was amazing.”
Southern Miss will travel to play Rice next Sunday at 1 p.m. If the Golden Eagles defeat Rice, they would take sole possession of first place in the C-USA West.