Nov. 7, 2011
New Mexico Lobos Women's Soccer - In The NCAA College Cup
Saturday: 8 p.m. (MT), New Mexico Lobos at UCLA
GoLobos.com: GameTracker, Game Story, Complete Stats
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
If the UCLA Bruins want to look at the New Mexico Lobos as a "sleeper" soccer team from the "little" Mountain West Conference, the Bruins might be making a big mistake.
The Lobos' first-round draw in the 2011 NCAA Division I Women's Soccer Championship was announced Monday in an on-line NCAA Selection Committee show and one of the announcers call Kit Vela's Lobos a "sleeper" from the "little" Mountain West Conference.
"They said it on TV," said Vela. "A sleeper from a little conference. They said `little'. I don't think our Mountain West Conference is little at all, but that's OK. I don't have any expectations about the NCAA and how they put all this together."
One thing is for certain: The Lobos won't be facing a sleeping giant in the UCLA Bruins of the Pac-12. The Bruins have been wide awake all season and will carry a gaudy 15-1-3 mark at the Lobos. The Bruins only loss - no surprise here - was a 4-1 slap down by the No. 1 seed and No. 1 ranked Stanford Cardinal.
"We definitely are better than a sleeper," said UNM senior Jennifer Williams, the MW Offensive Player of The Year and the MW tourney MVP. "We've always been underestimated.
"We were picked to finish second this year in our conference and we ended up winning the whole thing and winning the tournament. It's not great to know you are being underestimated, but we can prove ourselves."
The proving ground for the Lobos won't be an easy one. The Bruins were ranked No. 2 behind Stanford in the TopDrawSoccer.com rankings and were No. 4 last week in the NSCAA poll. UCLA is loaded with top-shelf soccer talent from California - and other places, like Vancouver, B.C.
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 might not be happy that they were lodged in the bracket next to a No. 2 seed, but the Bruins probably think they should have grabbed a No. 1 spot. The Bruins are good.
"It's exciting," said Williams. "We played them our freshman year and it was a 3-0 loss that time, but we've come a long way and we're exciting to prove ourselves. It's going to be a great game."
The Lobos gathered at Coaches Grill and there was some laughter among the team as the NCAA bracket was filled out and the Lobos were in the last section. It was that way last year, too, but there was a lot more suspense in 2010 since the Lobos were looking for an at-large bid.
They got that 2010 invite, but there was really no suspense this time since the Lobos grabbed the Mountain West's automatic bid as the tourney champions. UNM won the 2011 MW crown Sunday with a 2-0 win over Wyoming.
To put last year's suspense in perspective: There were no at-large invites extended to the "little' Mountain West in 2011.
In 2010, the Lobos were shipped off to Notre Dame, which won the 2010 College Cup with a 1-0 upset over Stanford in the championship game. The Bruins are a lot like Notre Dame in at least two areas. They are tough at home. They probably have the talent to win the 2011 national crown.
"It helps a lot," said Williams of playing in the 2010 College Cup - UNM's first-ever trip to the NCAA postseason. "We got the jitters out last year playing at Notre Dame. We are excited and we won't be nervous this year. We'll play soccer like we normally do."
The Bruins have wins in 2011 over two teams which have been ranked in the Top 25: Florida and Oregon State. UCLA tied two ranked teams: Pepperdine and Washington State.
UCLA has taken 363 shots to 132 for its opponents. The Bruins have scored 42 goals and allowed 11. They have a superstar in Vancouver's Sydney Leroux, who has scored 16 goals. There is help up front in freshmen Ally Courtnall and Samantha Mewis, who have touched the net six times apiece.
Leroux has a name for herself in college ball, but she also is an international sensation. She had scored 30 goals in 36 games at the national U-20 level. She has played on both the U.S. and the Canada National teams. Leroux plays at a high level and has eight game-winners in 2011. She scored three goals in the first half in UCLA's 8-0 spanking of Colorado.
The Lobos should be carrying additional confidence into the NCAA fray thanks to their 1-0 loss at Florida State. Florida State, a No. 1 seed in the 64-team bracket, just slipped past the visitors from New Mexico, 1-0. Florida State had nine shots. UNM had nine shots. FSU had three shots on goal. UNM had three shots on goal.