May 7, 2009
What: Lobos at NCAA Regional
First Round: 3 p.m. MDT, Friday (May 8) vs. Minnesota
At Stake: Winner plays 4 p.m. Saturday vs. USC/UC Santa Barbara winner
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Since they play for New Mexico and are Lobos, you could probably call them "The Three Amigos" and get away with it.
If you dip deeper into their roots, you are tempted to call them "The Three Blokes," but only Johnny Parkes and Miles Bugby hail from the land of blokes: England. Graeme Kassautzki is from Canada. Not sure what a guy/man/dude/bloke is called in Canada!
But there is a term that fits these three University of New Mexico seniors perfectly: Friends. Actually, it's a term that fits the Lobos up and down the roster, from freshman to senior, from coach to player.
And Lobo coach Alan Dils is thankful that the term has true meaning among his Lobos. "It's a heck of a lot more fun to coach a team like this that enjoys each other and pulls for each other. That makes a huge difference in a long season."
The Lobos' season has been long and only got longer when they made the NCAA Championships. The Lobos open NCAA play at 3 p.m. Friday vs. Minnesota. The first-round match is in Los Angeles and if the Lobos grind the Gophers, UNM will play on Saturday the winner of Southern Cal vs. UC Santa Barbara.
A lot of the Lobos' hopes for advancement rest on the rackets of the three seniors: Parkes, Bugby and Kassautzki. But Dils says his three seniors also have been shining examples of the unselfish dedication that turns individuals into a cohesive fist of team-first Lobos.
"When you have been through so many things together and have fought through a long season together, you grow closer," said Dils. "That holds particularly true for these three seniors. The whole team is like that, but these three guys have shown how important that is and how much they believe in that team-first attitude.
"The team is friends for life and one of the best parts of college athletics is that you come out of the experience with friends for life."
Actually, Parkes and Bugby had a foot up on the other Lobos. The doubles partners were teammates in Millfield School (England) and both decided to cross the big ocean and become Lobos. It wasn't a package offer. Dils simply saw two good players, two good kids, he knew would be good Lobos. But there is no doubt the double offer made it easier on both Parkes and Bugby.
"It was a bit of an easy decision," said Parkes.
Of the three, Parkes might be the most outspoken when it comes to believing in team play over individual play. Parks has crafted together a fabulous senior year behind that philosophy. He is the Mountain West Conference Player of The Year, a member of the MWC championship team, and has been invited to play in the NCAA Championships as an individual.
"If you start thinking you are bigger than the team, you are going to start losing," said Parkes. "I've never once felt I was out here by myself. I've always found that I'm not as good if I do things thinking about myself."
Said Dils: "You want every time to have this type of unity. That's not always the case. You try to promote unity and you stress the importance of it, but not every kid buys into it. There can be players who create riffs and divisions. You usually need to get rid of someone like that.
"This team has a special chemistry and I'm sure they have played better than if it had been a bunch of guys out there playing for themselves. When you have that unity, that closeness, it helps, almost forces, players to be better than they would have been if they had been out there for themselves."
The Lobos' "I-got-your-back" attitude was apparent in the MWC Championship match, a 4-3 win over TCU. Dils said he has seen that attitude all season and usually it pushes the Lobos to a level slightly above their talent.
"This team has a special chemistry and I'm sure they have played better than if it had been a bunch of guys out there playing for themselves."
Lobo coach Alan Dils
Of course, there is talent on this Lobo squad. Parkes, Bugby and Kassautzki all made the All-MWC team. Parkes is 23-2 at the No. 1 singles spot and has lost only eight sets in his 25 matches. Kassautzki is 13-7 in the No. 2 hole and Bugby is 14-3 at No. 3. Parkes and Bugby are 16-7 in doubles and Kassautzki and Joe Woods are 17-5 in doubles.
"These guys are all committed to the cause, really care for each other and they all go out there to play more for their teammates than they do themselves," said Dils. "When you have that kind of attitude, great things can happen."
It would be great for the Lobos to slip past Minnesota, slip past probably USC (No. 8 in nation), and advance to the NCAA finals set for May 14-19 in College Station, Texas.
But first things first: the Gophers. "Minnesota is ranked higher, the No. 2 seed in this event, but I would say it's a 50-50 match," said Dils. "they are certainly very good and there is no question they will fight us. But we're not going there expecting it to be easy."