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Stevens: Lobos Carry A Bigger Slingshot vs. UCLA Goliaths
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  11/11/2011
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Nov. 11, 2011

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New Mexico Lobos Women's Soccer - In The NCAA College Cup

Saturday: 8 p.m. (MT), New Mexico Lobos at UCLA
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By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

It is fair and accurate to say Kit Vela's Lobos once again march into the NCAA soccer wars labeled as a David battling Goliath. But there is a difference.

This time the Lobos carry a bigger slingshot. They are better.

"We know how we can play and we know we can prove everybody wrong," said Lobo keeper, Kelli Cornell of Saturday's game at UCLA. "We know what we have to do."

What the Lobos might have to do is raise their game to a level not yet reached in 2011. It's not that the Lobos aren't an excellent team and haven't been playing at a high level. But the bar in NCAA play is raised for every team and every player.

This is do-or-die against the finest college soccer teams from coast-to-coast. The Lobos have been shipped out to the West Coast to play Bruins on UCLA soil. It will be a pitch presenting a great challenge against an opponent of great stature.

Which is déjà vu for Vela's Lobos: Been there, faced that. This time the University of New Mexico Lobos plan to do it better.

The Lobos obviously were thrown into the fire and the heart of the NCAA bracket in 2010 when they were shipped to Notre Dame to play on one of the more difficult fields in America when it comes to the home team defending. The Fighting Irish, the eventual national champions, defended.

UCLA isn't a soccer team on the royalty level of Notre Dame, but the Bruins are in the royal court. They are ranked No. 2 in the nation in one poll and No. 4 in the nation in the college coaches' poll. They are one of four No. 2 seeds and carry a gaudy 15-1-3 mark at the 12-4-4 Lobos. UCLA's only loss is to mighty Stanford.

The NCAA panel gave UCLA a No. 2 seed behind No. 1 seeds Duke, Florida State, Stanford and Wake Forest. The other No. 2 seeds are Oklahoma State, Florida and Virginia.

The Lobos are paced up front by Jennifer Williams and feature an aggressive and savvy defense anchored by Cornell. That UNM defense will get a severe test in UCLA.

"UCLA is a fantastic team," said Vela. "They are good. They have top-end kids."

Amazingly, the Bruin with the most impressive top-end player hasn't been working out with the team this week, but is "expected" to show up for the Lobo game. How sweet. Sydney Leroux, one of the top soccer players in the world, has been working out with the U.S. National Team. Her status for any other NCAA matches with UCLA is unknown.

For sure, if Leroux shows up to help her UCLA sisters, UNM's Cornell will be shouting out, "Mark No. 2." Cornell also might be calling out the number "22" and number "18," - a couple other "top-end" Bruins.

Leroux, who has scored 30 goals at the U-20 national level, has scored 16 goals for UCLA. She has help up front in freshmen Samantha Mewis and Ally Courtnall. Mewis came out West ranked as the No. 1 soccer prospect in high-school ball. She was a national player of the year and a Parade All-American. Courtnall has played on both the Canadian national team and the U-17 U.S. national team.

Yep, the Bruins are loaded and that's why only No. 1 ranked, unbeaten Stanford has stained the Bruins' slate with a loss. However, the Lobos are excited for the chance to play an elite of college soccer.

"We got the jitters out last year playing at Notre Dame," said Williams. "We won't be nervous this time. We dipped our toes in the (NCAA) water and now we're out to make a statement. When people think of New Mexico, they don't think of soccer. We're putting our name on the map."

To carve out a season that brings with it an NCAA bid, a team has to be good up front, in the middle and on the back side. The Lobos are this type of team. So is UCLA. The Bruins' freshman keeper, Katelyn Rowland, leads the Pac-12 in shutouts with nine and has a goals against average of 0.54.

Rowland, like Cornell, has a lot of help in front of the net. UCLA's defense has surrendered 11 goals in 19 matches. The team ranks 10th nationally in shutouts (12) and 13th nationally in goals against average (0.56).

"We have experience from last year and we want to use that experience to our advantage," said Cornell. "I think we've peaked at the right time of the season." The Lobos haven't lost in 11 straight games and have won nine of those. UNM's four losses all came by a single goal.

Of course, you might look at UCLA's run and say the Bruins have been peaking all season.

"I think we can match up against anyone, but we need an A-plus effort," said Vela. "Our girls are very confident and very unified and anything can happen in soccer."

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