Texas head coach back in familiar territory with second round matchup

Dalton Phillips

The first round of the NCAA tournament provided Texas with some much-needed momentum. The second round is where the team will be tested.  

The No. 4 Longhorns head to Duke on Friday evening for their first-ever postseason contest with Clemson. After dispatching North Texas 3-0 a week ago on a pair of goals from sophomore Cyera Hintzen, Texas stands 90 minutes away from advancing to the quarterfinals for the first time in a decade. 

For head coach Angela Kelly, the stadium is only a short drive away from the University of North Carolina — her alma mater and site of four consecutive NCAA national titles. The former Tar Heel All-American led the UNC team from 1991–94 during its 13-year dynasty run.

“Back to a familiar spot for me,” Kelly said. “Back in my neck of the woods from my collegiate career. I’m very familiar with Duke University and their facility and playing on that field. So I’m excited to take this young squad through this next round, and they’re excited and ready to play.”

Clemson enters Friday having blown past Alabama 2-1 in the first round on a pair of lightning-fast second-half goals. The Tigers, now 10–5–3, are enjoying a third straight second round appearance, propelled by their own forward dynamic duo of graduate senior Jenna Polonsky and freshman Mariana Speckmaier. The pair have each tallied seven goals this season and have a combined 35 of the team’s 84 points.

Compared to the counterattack-heavy style often favored in the Big 12, Clemson and the ACC employ a far more deliberate brand of soccer — an approach that actually aligns more closely with Kelly’s system at Texas. 

The Longhorns haven’t faced an East Coast opponent this season but will benefit from Kelly’s experience. 

“Clemson would be a squad, if you gave them time, they’d like to play attractively (very technically),” Kelly said. “But they have some fast personalities who can get behind a backline
as well.”

Already coming off a record-setting season, the team again appears poised to plunge Texas deeper into history. This current crop of Longhorns hasn’t been here before — but they are led by a head coach who has. 

The collection of underclassmen have already defied a season’s worth of expectations, but Kelly says they aren’t finished yet.

“These are small conversations I have with our players,” Kelly said. “Are we satisfied with just advancing to the next round, or are we ready to take that next step? And over the course of this season, it’s been next step, next step, next step.”