Cyera Hintzen

Photo Credit: Brooke Crim | Daily Texan Staff

The magical campaign of 2017 rolls on for Texas as it heads to the Sweet 16 after sneaking past Clemson on penalty kicks.

“(I’m) just really excited for the squad, throughout the course of the season every single challenge they’ve been meeting it and exceeding it,” head coach Angela Kelly said.  “This is a huge step for our program to get back to the Sweet 16 and it’s just a really big step and I’m just really proud of the team.”

Squaring off at Koskinen Stadium in Durham, North Carolina, the Longhorns prevailed in yet another battle of wills following a scoreless defensive first half that resulted in just one shot on target for both teams.

Any goal scoring opportunities from the dangerous duo of freshman forward Haley Berg and sophomore Cyera Hintzen were erased with the disciplined line of defense along the Tigers midfield and defensive front.

With zero first half moments to capitalize on, Texas managed to create one in the second half, finding a through ball to Cyera Hintzen 61 minutes in at the top corner of the 18 yard box. She skillfully chipping it over the Clemson keeper for her tenth goal of the season.

Following such a key second half goal in NCAA tournament play, Texas looked to avoid giving up a gut-wrenching late-game goal like they did against Baylor in the Big 12 championship a few weeks back.

The Longhorns defense had been stout for most of the game, but fatigue began to wear as Clemson’s offensive attack led by freshman forward Mariana Speckmaier began to break down Texas’ wall of defense.

Texas succumbed to the pressure with less than five minutes to play in regulation, as Speckmaier crossed a ball that was deflected mid-air by junior forward Patrice DiPasquale, leveling the game 1-1 as regulation came to a close.

Coming into the NCAA tournament 5-2-2 in overtime periods, Texas was no stranger to playing extra minutes. However, what changed on this occasion was a date with the unpredictable phenomenon of penalty kicks.

Holding a 6-5 lead going into Clemson junior defender Sam Staab’s penalty kick, it was do or die for the Tigers against Texas’ standout keeper Nicole Curry.  Staab’s right-footed shot in the left corner of the frame was denied by Curry, sending Texas on to the third round to play the No 1. seeded Duke Blue Devils.

“She’s made some really big time saves and been really steady back there for us,” Kelly said on Curry’s play.  “I told her when we were heading out to PK’s (penalty kicks), I said, ‘Nicole, you’re just going to need to save one,’ and that’s what she did.”

Duke demolished Oklahoma State 7-0 in their second round matchup Friday night, setting Texas up for very easily their most formidable foe on Sunday.  The Blue Devils have only lost two games all year long, both times to No. 2 North Carolina.

The Longhorn team has proven before it can compete with top programs, but Sunday against the Blue Devils for an away game will be a tough test.

Photo Credit: Angela Wang | Daily Texan Staff

The Longhorns punched their ticket to North Carolina on Friday in style.

Sophomore forward Cyera Hintzen scored two goals and freshman forward Haley Berg added one of her own as the team’s top goal-scoring duo led Texas past the Mean Green 3-0 at home in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

“I’m really pleased with the result,” head coach Angela Kelly said. “I thought we did some great things. We were able to give some of our young players more minutes than we were able to in the regular season. We’re just really excited to be in the NCAA tournament.”

Keen on avoiding another early upset, the Longhorns played with a sense of urgency from the opening kick. Just 20 minutes into the contest, Berg split two North Texas defenders and crossed the ball to a waiting Hintzen. The forward quickly lined up a shot and blasted it home from 14 yards to give Texas the lead.

Moments later, Berg made it a two-score game with a clean one-on-one move and finish past Mean Green goalkeeper Brooke Bradley.

After narrowly escaping with a win on the road in the two program’s first meeting this season in August, Texas looked like the far more polished team on Friday night.

“I think we just settled down and played more composed,” Hintzen said. “We realized when we can string passes together we can get into the box. We took that into consideration and applied it more out on the field.”

The rest of the match following the opening two goals was all Texas. The team set the tempo on both ends, outshooting their opponents 15-8 and allowing only three shots on goal. Sophomore goalie Nicole Curry recorded a program-best eleventh shutout with her three saves.

Coming out of the break, the Longhorns put the final nail in the coffin as Hintzen notched her ninth goal of the season. A deep pass from midfield bounced through several North Texas defenders before landing at her feet seven yards from the goal. A quick tap is all it took to make it 3-0.

Texas now prepares for a trip to Durham for a second-round matchup with Clemson. After several disappointing losses, including to Baylor in the first round of the Big 12 Championship, the team appears to have righted the ship.

“We came together as a team at the start of this new season,” Berg said. “We took mistakes from this season and fixed those. Obviously, we have more stuff to work on, but I think we came together and we’re excited to move on to the next round.”

Photo Credit: Brooke Crim | Daily Texan Staff

Thirteen games without a loss, and yet the urgency to get back on a winning track has never been greater for the 2017 Longhorns. Texas is striving to break a two-game tie streak after beginning the season with 11 consecutive wins and will need to get back on track quick to grab the No. 1 seed in the Big 12 Tournament.

The scoreless contest Texas endured against Oklahoma became a greater concern against TCU when forward Cyera Hintzen was pulled out of the game by head coach Angela Kelly. The sophomore was pulled by Kelly to mitigate the damage of a “tweak” in her leg.

Hintzen’s impact this year speaks for itself. She’s netted seven goals in 13 games, solidifying her spot as one of the top young players in the nation.

Retaining a healthy squad heading into the Big 12 championships is now a clear priority for Kelly, but it leaves uncertainty for a lineup that now requires some rotation.

“I think everybody needs to take a deep breath and just be a little introspective,” Kelly said. “(We) just need to understand what it takes at the highest level. But if you think about what this team is doing and the amount of teams that are coming after them, we are going to use it as a learning environment.”

Kelly and her players realize Hintzen’s nearly irreplaceable value to the team. In addition to her own scoring prowess, she’s brought added acceleration to the development of the rest of the younger Longhorns, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

Freshman forward Haley Berg has been able to thrive alongside Hintzen on the Longhorn attacking front — scoring four goals of her own. But time will tell if Hintzen’s injury will slow Berg’s progress and deny Texas the opportunity to play at its highest level.

Despite Hintzen’s possible absence, this weekend’s slate of road games against Kansas and Kansas State gives Texas a chance to restore their winning confidence and adjust after a week of rest.

“We worked so hard to get here,” sophomore goalkeeper Nicole Curry said. “So I don’t think any of us are going to let it slip away.”

Kelly has praised the talented youth of this year’s team on several occasions and noted it as a major contributing factor to the Longhorns’ success in 2017. But even with their inexperience, this year’s group has proved mature in their approach to each game, staying level headed even when facing strenuous circumstances. They’ll need to continue with that approach over the weekend.

“We have the opportunity to get that Big 12 Championship,” junior midfielder Kayra Dollas said. “So I think just thinking about that going into games and being ready to work hard, we’ll be fine.”