Dec. 5, 2012
New Mexico Lobos Women's Soccer - 2012 Season Review
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
When you're on the edge, the cusp, the wrong side of the borderline between a journey into the NCAA wars and the end of a season, you should walk away with a hollow spot in your stomach.
There should be an ache, an itch, a push, a hunger.
This -- for Kit Vela's Lobo soccer program -- is a good thing.
"We ended the season on a high saying, `We can do this,'" said Vela. "Sure, we're disappointed that we didn't defend our titles and we're disappointed we didn't go back (to the NCAAs), but it makes us hungrier to do more next year."
It isn't that the Lobos' season of 2012 was a disappointment. The young Lobos rolled out an 11-7-2 season, notched another NSCAA College team Academic award, and posted wins over SMU, Texas and Georgia.
The Lobos had one impressive stretch of their season where they went 8-1 and another six-game stretch where the allowed only one goal.
But Vela's Lobos turned a huge corner in their program growth a couple of years back where Mountain West title and NCAA berths became the expected norm.
It's those expectations that carry them into an off-season that began a few days after the NCAA bids went out and New Mexico was not on the final bracket. "We were on the field a few days later," said Vela. "The girls are hungry."
Of course, missing the NCAA playoffs was a sting. UNM had won back-to-back Mountain West titles that had pushed them into postseason play in 2010 and 2011. It was the San Diego State Aztecs that climbed to the top of the Mountain in 2012 pulling both the regular-season title and the MW tournament crown out of Lobo hands.
The Aztecs, ranked No. 6 when they beat UNM in the Mountain West Tournament final, were a special team and ended the regular season at 19-1-1 before winning two games in the NCAA playoffs.
"We came in second to a San Diego State team that was Top Ten," said Vela. "I think after all we lost, coming in second to a San Diego State team on a roll was really a good season."
It's possible that the youthful Lobos actually overachieved in 2012. The Lobos had only one player, Rachel Montoya, named to the All-Mountain West First team. SDSU had five and UNLV had four. New Mexico had one Second Team selection in Sinead Fleming. Boise State had four on that team.
But it was the Lobos who charged to the No. 2 seed in the Mountain West Tournament played on Aztec soil in San Diego.
If the Lobos had a flaw in 2012, it was the basic factor in determining all athletic contests: the scoreboard.
"We lost a lot of experience and a lot of that experience was in scoring," said Vela. "Obviously points are how you win."
Senior Rachel Montoya led the team in scoring with five goals and five assists. Stephanie Rowe had five goals and a single assist. Natalie Jenks and Jordan Craig each scored three times and Brianna Webster had two goals.
Jennifer Williams had 14 goals in 2011 - more than UNM's top three scorers combined in 2012. The loss of Williams was an impact up front in 2012.
"We got a little bit here and a little bit there and nobody became that go-to player that a team always hopes to find," said Vela. "It was a year we couldn't find consistent rhythm, but that was part of being young and inexperienced.
"But these girls were warriors. They played hard and we're proud of what they did."
The offensive numbers carried by UNM and SDSU into the MW tournament reflected that minor Lobo flaw. The Aztecs had 303 shots and 36 goals. UNM had 219 shots and 21 goals.
"We had some miscues defensively that we didn't have in the past, but we probably were good enough on defense to win more," said Vela. "We were too inconsistent on offense. We needed to put the ball in the back of the net more. We weren't cutthroat enough up front.
"But we're proud of our season. We beat some big-name teams on the road and we hadn't lost in conference in two years. That's a hard thing to keep going. It's difficult to win soccer games on the road."
UNM went 4-0-1 at home in 2012 and ran their unbeaten streak in MW play to 17 before losing at UNLV. The Lobos will carry a 13-match home unbeaten streak into the 2013 season. The 11 wins posted in 2012 marked the first time in school history that the program has won at least 10 games in fourth straight seasons.
UNM tied a school record with five consecutive shutouts and set a program record for scoreless minutes at 545:19. Cornell became the first UNM keeper to record five consecutive shutouts and she set the program's record with those 545:19 scoreless minutes. Cornell also set the program standard for minutes played in a season and career starts.
Vela's Lobos lost seven seniors after the 2012 season: Kelli Cornell, Rachel Montoya, Sinead Fleming, Natalie Jenks, Stephanie Rowe, Lauren Irwin and Jordan Craig. That group has been a dynamic contributor to the greatest four-year history in UNM women's soccer.
Vela also loses her top four scorers from 2012. She isn't worried.
"Next year, we have to be more threatening on offense and we will be," said Vela. "We should be very dynamic next year, but it will again be a young team.
"We lost another great group of seniors that helped along a tradition of success and expectations. But we have another group that can't wait for next year. They are excited and we're excited about them."