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Stevens: UNM's Top-Rated Defense A Product Of A Complete Team
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  10/08/2010
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Oct. 8, 2010

Lobo Women's Soccer
Saturday: San Diego State at Lobos, 5 p.m., UNM Soccer Complex
GoLobos.com: GameTracker, Stats, recap, LoboTV

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

Is it possible to say that Jennifer Williams, one of the top scorers in the nation, is one of New Mexico's best defenders? Yep. Just like it's possible to say that defenders Roxie McFarland and Lauren Irwin are two of UNM's top scorers.

In this game, the front takes care of the back, and the back takes care of the front. "This is a complete team that makes every position and every player better," said Lobo coach Kit Vela.

The Lobos' defense has been getting some national attention lately because, well, it is one of the top defenses in the nation. The Lobos actually are No. 1 in NCAA stats in goals-against average (0.255) and saves percentage (0.941). Those marks come out of a pack of 325 teams. The Lobos are No. 3 in shutout percentage (0.727).

Of course, the best way to rack up gaudy defensive numbers is to keep the ball in front of the other team's net. That's why up-front Lobos like Williams are important to a defensive cause. A defense that has to stop three or four strong offensive charges probably is going to do better in the goals-against category than a defense that has to look at 11 or 12 strong charges.

Still, teams are going to make their runs and the ball is going to be on your side of the field. It helps to have some ornery defenders, who aren't afraid to sacrifice body and limbs to keep the enemy from getting the ball past Lobo keeper, Kelli Cornell - the nation's No. 2 keeper in goals-against average at 0.266 and No. 4 in save percentage at 0.935.

Sure, the Lobos have a complete team that complements each player and each position. But Cornell is throwing out some mean work at the net and the Lobo defenders packaged around her aren't exactly creampuffs when the ball comes into their territory.

"I think our defenders are as tough as they come," said Cornell. "If I was on the opposing team, I'd be intimidated."

Said McFarland: "We are aggressive and we are competitive. We just don't let anybody get the best of us."

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"I think our defenders are as tough as they come. If I was on the opposing team, I'd be intimidated."
Lobo Keeper Kelli Cornell
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The Lobos carry a 7-1-3 mark into Saturday's 5 p.m. Mountain West Conference game with San Diego State. UNM has scored 21 goals and allowed only three. That's a nice balance.

"Defense wins championships in soccer, too," said Vela. "You don't let them score and the worst-case scenario is a zero-zero tie. This is a strong-willed team and the whole team takes it personally when we give up a goal. It's not always a defender who makes the mistake that allows a goal."

During games, the offense helps the defense and vice versa. But this you-got-my-back; I-got-your-back philosophy also carries over into practice and it's just as important there.

The Lobo offense is honing its skills against one of the top defenses in the nation. That makes the "O" better. The Lobo defense is looking at a group of quick and talented strikers. That makes the Lobo "D" better.

"Our defense has been solid for a number of years, but our offense has gotten so much better the past few years," said Vela. "Both sides push each other day-in and day-out. Our team has been very, very good this season and it's a team effort.

Defender Lauren Irwin


"With that said, our back players have been very, very good. They are tough and they are smart."

A reality of soccer is that a great defensive play can create a goal at the other end. A mistake on offense also can create a scoring opportunity for the other team. UNM's Cornell says the Lobo defense isn't just thinking about stopping goals.

"We know if we do our job, the team has a better opportunity to win," Cornell said. "We try to be as perfect as we can on defense and try to create opportunities for our offense."

There are eight games this season in which there was no way the Lobos could lose. They were all shutouts. No team has scored more than one goal against UNM.

"We are tight, we have good chemistry and we are physical," said Irwin. "We take pride in our shutouts. We huddle up and say, "Another shutout, let's go.'"

Said McFarland: "We have great communication and leadership in the back. We work hard to prevent goals. We don't want anybody to score on us. We are all physical. It's a collective effort."

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