DENTON — It's 8 a.m. in Denton U.S.A., and the Texas summer heat is beginning to catch up with the already risen sun.
Head coach John Hedlund, lounged and relaxed in his office chair with his arms folded and a grin on his face, sighs.
"Well, I guess it's time to get to work," he says.
As he makes his way from his office through the parking lot to the Mean Green soccer field, sun glasses on with a slow stride, he twirls his whistle and laughs as one of his players runs by and makes a wisecrack joke at him for being late.
Once the team is done with its warm-up he gathers them and gives a pep talk.
"We're less than two weeks from the start of the season," he explains. "If you truly want to win a championship, the process should have started before you got on this field. Show us you want it."
Though he's no longer smiling and now has a stern tone, the passion he strives from his team they already posses. They are the four-time defending conference champion North Texas women's soccer team but still have so much more they want to accomplish.
"We know we're talented and we know we've improved what already was a winning culture," said senior defender Carissa Sanders. "But we want to make a run in the NCAA Tournament. We got a taste of it last year by reaching the tournament but we're not satisfied."
Sanders, who is part of a senior class that has won a conference championship every year she's been at UNT and has reached the NCAA Tournament two of the three years , is referring to the Mean Green's first-round matchup last season versus Texas.
UNT fell to the Longhorns and now is looking for more.
"We're striving for a conference championship because that's the first step and it's almost become the bar for our program," she says. "But we of course want to win it all. And as a senior, I'm itching to want to leave this school knowing we accomplished something no UNT soccer team has done."
In the program's 23-year history, UNT has claimed 13 conference championships but has never won five in a row. In fact, no program at UNT has won five in a row since the 1972 men's golf team that won a school-record six conference championships in a row from 1961 to 1966.
If Sanders and her fellow seniors led this year's team to another conference championship and made a significant run in this year's NCAA Tournament they would accomplished a goal that has yet to be done by a UNT team sport.
"I've never really thought of it big picture," said senior forward Taylor Torres. "You get focused on just accomplishing what's in front of you but I think winning five-straight conference championships and making a run in the NCAA Tournament would be something we would be very proud of."
What is in front of the Mean Green is a home exhibition match on Friday versus Oklahoma at 7 p.m. and a final exhibition match on Sunday versus SMU who received top 25 votes a season ago.
There are a number of challenging non-conference matchups for UNT who returns nearly its entire roster. From hosting South Eastern Conference power Alabama on August 19, to traveling to Santa Clara on August 27, the Mean Green will be tested early on.
The main course to the UNT schedule is of course its Conference USA slate, which begins Sept. 14 at Old Dominion and finishes up with a home match versus the defending regular season conference champion Rice Owls on Oct. 26.
ODU handed the Mean Green their only loss in conference last season. Two goals by the Monarchs in the 80-plus minute were the difference-maker as they came away with a 3-1 victory in Norfolk, Virginia. Furthermore, the late season loss to ODU cost UNT a fourth-straight regular season conference championship.
"We haven't forgotten that match," Sanders said with a sarcastic smile. "It still hurts."
Since the Mean Green joined C-USA in 2013, they've won the most matches against conference opponents (48) and have the best winning percentage (80.1 percent) in those matches.
The only other school that comes close to North Texas is Rice.
Last season, UNT hosted the Owls and were just seconds away from having its 10-year-old home conference unbeaten streak snapped, but a last chance shot and goal by then senior Cat Sebazco tied the match and sent it to overtime where the match would end in a draw.
The Owls lost many of its key pieces from last year but are still thought to be UNT's toughest competition in 2018.
"Nothing is going to be handed to us," Torres said. "If we want to accomplish our goals we have to go get it. And we still have so much to win so there's no room for complacency."