Jan. 5, 2012
LOBO WOMEN'S SOCCER 2011 SEASON REVIEW
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
To succinctly but accurately put the New Mexico Lobo women's soccer season into perspective, you only have to throw out this phrase: "The bar has been raised."
Of course, there was much more to the 2011 season. There was the Lobos' repeat as Mountain West regular-season champions. There was the team's first-ever Mountain West Tournament title and the program's first-ever automatic NCAA bid.
There was UNM's second straight march into the NCAA playoff. There was a brilliant, season-ending string of 11 consecutive games without a loss that included nine wins that produced all the aforementioned glory.
"This senior class gave us everything it had," said Lobo Coach Kit Vela. "They left us a foundation to take the next step. We are proud of what they accomplished as individuals and as a team; how they helped make us a better program.
"This senior class in particular has taken us to a new level."
The new level pushes the bar high. Vela and the returning Lobos plan to make another push. It will be challenging to improve on two MWC titles and a trip into the NCAA wars. If the Lobos do return to the NCAA postseason in 2012, maybe a step up would be a better draw. The Lobos have been thrown to the wolves the past two seasons, but the 1-0 loss to UCLA this fall showed the strong steps made by Vela's program.
"For the most part, we competed with them," said Vela. "We had some fantastic opportunities to score and didn't capitalize on them.
"We had another great season with a lot of success and that success is a reflection of all the time and effort these girls put in to make it a special season."
Said Jennifer Williams: "We put so much effort and all our heart into this team."
The 5-foot-3 Williams obviously was a special Lobo, a special scorer, and will be missed up front. The senior forward scored 14 goals and totaled 31 points - more than double the points of the next Lobo, Jael Fanning with 14 points and 10 assists.
"Jen is a great player, but she is also a tremendous teammate," said Vela. "That was a quality found in all our seniors and all our players. They were never just out there for themselves."
Williams repeated as the Mountain West's Offensive Player of The Year and junior keeper Kelli Cornell repeated as the league's Defensive Player of The Year. Williams also was named to the 2011 NSCAA All-Pacific Region Second Team.
It was somewhat of a shock that the Mountain West queen of both the regular season and the league tourney placed only two players on the All-MWC First Team - Williams and Cornell. But UNM's superb depth was reflected with five players on the All-MW Second Team: junior forward Natalie Jenks, junior defender Lauren Irwin, sophomore defender Elizabeth Nare, and senior midfielders Jael Fanning and Zaneta Wyne.
"It all came together for us this year," said Jenks. "Winning both the conference title and the tournament title is just a great feeling."
Said Fanning, who was named to the 2011 CoSIDA/Capital One Academic All-District 7 Team: "We played for each other and we played with heart."
The excellence on the pitch at the close of the season didn't come by accident. There was the work ethic, the talent, the coaching - and also the courage of playing a challenging season. Vela didn't place a bunch of cupcakes in front of her Lobos in order to rack up an impressive won-lost slate.
"We're at the point in our program where we have to play those teams," said Vela after her Lobos dropped to 3-3-2. "Our players, our soccer, our level of play are right there. We just still have some younger players who have to learn things about playing at this level. We walked away with some losses, but we have learned and that will pay off.
"We played good teams with good athletes playing in good soccer conferences and we're right there with them. We are learning what we need to do to get to that next point."
Vela's words soon turned into victories - and MWC titles. Good stuff. But Vela's program and her philosophy as a coach don't stop at the sideline. Her Lobos earned a National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Team Academic Award for the 2010-11 academic year.
The NSCAA award is given to teams that post a grade point average of 3.0 or higher. By recording a 3.48 GPA -- the highest grade point average under Vela -- New Mexico earned this honor for a fifth straight year. The Lobos had the highest GPA in the Mountain West.
"These girls had great success on the field, but that didn't distract from the success we also expect in the classroom," said Vela. "They showed discipline and dedication at every level.
"So much about soccer and winning is about maturity. You don't always have to be perfect, but you have to understand the importance of each moment and each opportunity. The girls understood that this season at maybe our highest level yet.
"We had never won the conference and now we have won it two years in a row. That's amazing and great kudos for a senior class that leaves a great legacy behind for the younger players to aim for. We had a great season but it also was another step up in where we plan to take this program."
The step taken in 2011 was a big one. You have a 2011 group that repeated as league champs, won a first-ever MWC tourney title, charged into the postseason, and hit the books like no Lobo team before it.
Yep, that bar is way up there.