Aug. 11, 2011
Lobo Women's Soccer -- UNM Soccer Complex
Friday: 7 p.m.; Lobos vs. Saint Mary's
Sunday: 1 p.m.; Lobos vs. Cal State Bakersfield
New Mexico Lobo Womens Soccer 2011 Season Preview
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Again, Lobo Coach Kit Vela has firm expectations, but there might be a big difference in 2011. The New Mexico Lobos, the reigning Mountain West champs, no longer fly under the radar. They have been targeted as something special.
Vela saw the raw talent and the indomitable spirit of her 2009 team grow into a similar team in 2010, but with a distinct difference that carries over to 2011.
In 2010, Vela's Lobos were better prepared to get it done, to finish, and to minimize the "unlucky" factor that so often influences the scoreboards of soccer. They are even more prepared in 2011.
In sports, this is a truth: the harder you work, the better you prepare, and the longer you focus -- the luckier you are. This stride forward also comes with growing up, gaining experience and learning from the good and bad things that come from challenging moments on the soccer field.
"So much about soccer and winning is about maturity," said Vela. "You don't always have to be perfect, but you have to understand the importance of each moment and each opportunity.
"If you lose focus for even a few minutes in a game, it could cost you. Focus creates consistency and I think maturity and experience creates focus."
Vela's Lobos have learned a lot and the talented Lobo pups from 2009 were not pups in 2010 and are not pups in 2011. But they are still talented, deep and hungry to keep on chewing their way up the ranks of NCAA soccer.
So, can Vela predict another charge to the Mountain West title and another season of NCAA play in 2011?
"The only thing I can say for certain is we are going to have an exciting year and we are going to be an exciting team to watch," she said. "Does that mean all wins? I hope so, but I can't predict that.
"Our team will be very, very similar, but we are even more equipped to deal with difficult challenges."
For sure, the Lobos will enter the season with a target on their jerseys as the reigning Mountain West regular-season champs. The Lobos and the Brigham Young Cougars were the class of the Mountain last season and BYU is no longer around. San Diego State was the preseason pick to win the 2011 MW title and New Mexico was picked to finish second - by a single first-place vote.
"That's fine," said Vela. "Good for them. People are thinking San Diego State is the new BYU, but the rest of the teams in the conference are pretty good, too. We'll see what happens."
The Lobos were picked to finish fifth in 2010 and what happened was the regular season ended with the Lobos on top. UNM also marched into NCAA play for the first time in program history. The Lobos lost only two senior starters off their 2010 championship team and the talent returning suggests that Vela's Lobos will not miss a beat - or the NCAA playoffs - in 2011.
But soccer can be a cruel game and Vela didn't make it easy on her Lobos by scheduling cupcakes to pad UNM's record in 2011.
"The girls want to play those teams and they want to play us," said Vela. "We want to be challenged and play teams that will make us better. I look at that schedule and think, `That's fine.' We have the chance to do great things against great teams."
The Lobos did some great things in 2010: first Mountain West title and first-ever dance in the NCAA postseason. UNM threw out a gaudy 12-3-5 season that was ended by Notre Dame, who in essence ended everybody's season in the Irish's run to the 2010 national title.
Vela lost two front-line players from 2010 in Kate Wyrick and Rachael Fields, who each put three balls into the net for UNM. But this is a Lobo team with lots of speed and talent -- and lots of potential to score.
The Lobos return two headliners in Jennifer Williams, the MW Offensive Player of The Year, and keeper Kelli Cornell, the MW Defensive Player of The Year. Williams, a speedster, scored eight goals and had 23 points last year. Cornell gave up 11 goals in 20 games for a 0.52 goals-against average.
Still, the heart of this UNM team that returns 21 players is front-to-back balance and that never-say-die spirit that is backed by old-fashioned, blue-collar work ethic. These Lobos will put on a show.
"This is a very high energy, exiting team to watch," said Vela. "They love to play this game and they are passionate about the effort they bring onto the field."
For sure, the Lobos pride themselves on effort, but 2010 was marked by a defensive pride that is sure to return in 2011 because of all the Lobo players who return.
"We have all four defenders back, but we also have developed a lot of depth in the backfield," said Vela. "It also was important for us to develop depth in the midfield and we have done that, too. We had the talent there, but we needed to get them some experience."
Up front, the Lobos have Williams. Her bursts of speed are a tough thing for a defender to handle. She also has a lot of help in attacking the net.
"I think we'll get goals from a lot of different players again," said Vela. "The way we play perpetuates that. We have midfielders and defenders, who can score. Jen is the most humble kid around and she'll tell you that she has a team around her that helps her look good. And that's a truthful statement.
"It's so much fun to coach these girls because of their character, their humility, and their passion for the game. We tell them that."
Vela goes into the 2010 season with more experienced depth, tons of talent, and says her players have "been there and done that."
Now, they are expected to do it again. That's Vela. That's Lobo soccer. The bar has been raised and it's a fun thing to watch Vela's Lobos shoot for the stars.