New Mexico Lobos Women’s Soccer – 2013 Season Review
Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
When you drift through the scorecards of Kit Vela’s pitch journey with her 2013 Lobos, you can’t help but look to see if the Lobo soccer coach has any bald spots – or any fingernails left.
For sure, this was a hair-pulling, nail-biting season for Vela. Consider this:
The Lobos lost ten games in 2013 and nine were by a single goal and three of those nine losses came in double overtime.
The Lobos also had three overtime ties this past season, playing eight overtime games.
You might think Vela’s 2013 Lobos were kinder to their coach in victory, but even those pleasant endings had a major degree of suspense and drama. The Lobos had eight wins – six by a single goal. Vela’s Lobos were kind to her hair and fingernails on two occasions. They beat Rice 3-0 and beat Colorado State 3-0.
Her Lobos made up for those 3-0 routs at the close of the season. UNM’s final four games went into double overtime producing two ties and two losses. UNM’s season ended in the Mountain West Tournament after a double-overtime tie of 0-0 lead to a shootout loss to Utah State.
“For as young as we were, 26 underclassmen, I felt we finished playing some of the best soccer we’ve ever played as a program or a team,” said Vela. “Our soccer was unbelievable. The effort was there every game.
“We knew that, because of our youth, we needed the ball to bounce our way this year. We don’t like losing, but we’re not unhappy with the season. The experiences produced from our schedule are immeasurable and there is so much motivation to get better.”
The season did produce excellent soccer. Even UNM’s beginning showed the talent of this young squad in a 1-0 loss to No. 24 Texas Tech and a 2-1 loss at No. 1 North Carolina. Tech finished the second in the No. 17 spot and Carolina ended No. 5. Vela also challenged her young team with games against No. 12 Duke, Michigan State, Saint Mary’s, Pacific, UC Santa Barbara and UC Davis.
“Finish” was a key word for the Lobos in 2013. They had the dynamics and the quickness to play excellent soccer, but were a few key goals away from producing an outstanding season and possibly another surge into NCAA play. UNM went into the 2013 season having lost seven senior and the Lobos’ top four scorers from 2012. UNM ended 8-10-3 overall and 6-3-1 in the Mountain West race.
San Diego State won the MW regular-season title (9-1-0) and the MW tourney title. The “almost” quality that haunted UNM throughout the season was highlighted by UNM’s loss at San Diego State – a 1-0 double-overtime fall.
“We just lacked the experience to finish,” said Vela, referring to finishing games by finishing around the net with timely goals. UNM played 21 games in 2013 and only three were determined by more than a one goal margin.
“We’d put people in position to finish (score), but it didn’t always happen for us,” said Vela. “Most freshmen and sophomores have trouble with the pressure that comes in front of the net. It’s a mixture of composure and instinct that comes with experience. The mental side of having ‘been there and done that’ just wasn’t second nature to them.”
The youth of the Lobos might have been reflected by the 2013 All-Mountain West Team. The Lobos grabbed no spots on the First Team, but placed four on the Second Team: Seniors Liz Nare and Brianna Webster and sophomores Dylan O’Connor and Lindsey Guice.
Guice led UNM in goals with five while O’Connor had four goals and three assists to tie Guice for the team lead in points (11). O’Connor took 45 shots in 2013 and Guice pulled the trigger 24 times.
The Lobos might not have grabbed any trophies in 2013, but this dynamic team was a crowd-pleaser and slammed the Mountain West in attendance. The Lobos averaged 1,380 fans in their 11 home games. The next best number came from Fresno State with a 966 average. To give New Mexico’s popularity more perspective: the conference average was 570 with three teams under 300.
The Lobos might not have had the finishes at the net they wanted, but they were mean mother bears on defense. “Defensively, we played well,” said Vela. UNM led the conference in goals allowed (tied with Boise State) by allowing only 19 in the Lobos’ 21-game season. UNM was second in the conference to Boise in average goals allowed per game. UNM had nine shutouts in 2013.
The Lobos put a talented and feisty freshman in front of the net in Cassie Ulrich, the only Lobo to pick up a Player of the Week honor in 2013. Ulrich was No. 2 in the Mountain West in goals-against average (0.85), No. 3 in save percentage (.821) and No. 3 in saves (87). Ulrich’s nine shutouts was good for the No. 2 spot in the final MW stats.
“We had a very good keeper,” said Vela. “Cassie was young and made some youthful mistakes, but you can’t fault a freshman for being young.”
UNM’s Brooke Ellison, a senior defender, was named Capital One/CoSIDA Second Team Academic All-America. Ellison also was placed on the Capital One/CoSIDA Academic All-District Team for District VII. She was joined by Liz Nare and Brianna Webster on the First Team. Ulrich and O’Connor were named to the Second Team.
Vela’s Lobos also should receive a Team Academic Award from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA). The award is the highest academic team award a program can earn.
“You always want to win more, but this team accomplished so much in how they played this year,” said Vela. “We played a monster schedule. We played the No. 1 team in the country (North Carolina) at the time toe-to-toe.
“We had a bunch of young kids play at a high level and they are coming back hungry to play at a higher level next year.”