May 29, 2012
New Mexico Lobos Women's Soccer Spring Review
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The teaching core of Kit Vela's spring ball is "development." That's a good thing because the New Mexico women's soccer coach can point to a few holes that need returning Lobos to grow and develop into capable replacements.
She isn't worried.
"I was very, very happy with what I saw this spring," said Vela. "I think the players left here hungry for more."
Vela's Lobos will get "more" in the fall of 2012 because they have a big, fat target on their collective backs as back-to-back Mountain West regular-season champions and the 2011 MW tournament champs. They are marked Lobos long before the first ball will be tossed out in the fall. The dark-horse days for these Lobos are over.
Spring ball is important every spring, but maybe they was more of a sense of urgency this spring for Vela's Lobos. They have to replace seven graduating players, who contributed on and off the field: Gianna Cavuoto, Amanda Collins, Jordan Craig, Jael Fanning, Roxie McFarland , Jennifer Williams and Zaneta Wyne.
There are a lot of points, leadership, defense and chemistry that have to be replaced - just like after the season of 2010 when Vela's Lobos took a hit from graduation but didn't skip a beat on the pitch.
It's fair to say that Vela's program is at the point where it doesn't rebuild, it simply reloads.
The reloading began this spring.
"We use the spring to develop our players - physically, mentally and socially among each other," said Vela. "There are a lot of things you look for in the spring, but you also look to define your personality for next season.
"Every team loses seniors from the fall and that changes dynamics within the team. That can be with replacing lost players with new ones, but it also takes in things like chemistry, leadership, work ethic.
"In college athletics, you get a team pretty much how you want it and then you lose an important group and you start again from a different point."
Lobo Coach Kit Vela
One thing is certain about Vela's program: It's a neat place to be. The Lobos have emerged as the dominant program in the Mountain West. They have pushed their way into the NCAA playoffs in 2010 and 2011.
These Lobos also have excited the local community with a special brand of soccer that has pushed New Mexico women's soccer to the No. 4 spot nationally in attendance - for the second year in a row.
There are several commitments a player has to make when she joins Vela's family of Lobos and high on that list is a commitment to work - work hard. That goes for spring ball, too.
"For me, lose, win or draw, it's what our effort looks like; what our leadership looks like," said Vela of a four-game spring schedule vs. Texas Tech, Cal Irvine, Cal Fullerton and UTEP that produced a 2-2 mark. "You want to see how our players' personalities react to different things that happen on the field.
"We played good opponents and we gave up some goals in the spring that we hadn't given up in the past, but we didn't go out there worrying about the scores. We are out there fine tunings and developing younger players."
Spring is an interesting time for soccer coaches because you usually are looking to fill some key holes left by graduation. You also don't have your full fall squad to evaluate. Vela lost seven players from her 2011-12 roster and will bring in ten freshmen this fall.
Quite possibly, some of those freshmen could emerge to be key players in the fall of 2012. We'll see.
"We have ten great players coming in, but we don't get them until the fall so we concentrate on the players we have in the spring," said Vela. "Of course, there will be some changes in the fall when we get the new girls and mold them into the team. But the core of our personality will already be formed."
The core of Vela's program is blue collar. It's roll up your sleeves and out work people on the field, in practice - in spring ball.
The personality of a team can be tweaked by players lost and changes created by returning players accepting bigger and more challenging roles. But the personality of Vela's Lobos always includes a passionate work ethic. This, she demands.
"You take a general philosophy into the spring, but the team's personality always changes somewhat and usually a team will take on the personality dictated by the next senior class," said Vela. "I'm sure our personality will be similar to the past, but it will come from different players with different dynamics.
"We always expect our players to work hard and hold each other accountable for both the good things and the bad things that might happen. That doesn't change."
For the past several years, most of the things that have happened to Vela's Lobos on the pitch have fallen in the "good" category. Expect the same in 2012.
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and award-winning columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org