Nov. 3, 2008
What: Mountain West Conference Tournament
Who: Lobos (4 seed) vs. UNLV (5)
When/Where: 4 p.m. Wednesday, Las Vegas, Nev.
Quick fact: Thursday's semis are live on The Mtn. at 1 pm., 4 p.m.
By Richard Stevens, Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Maybe it's the Lobo freshmen's turn to be jittery. Then again, maybe Kit Vela's talented group of rookies just don't understand what the big deal is about going out and playing some high-level soccer for some high-level stakes.
"I don't think these freshmen think about the magnitude of a game," said Vela. "They just go play."
Coach Vela said the pressure of beating UNLV in Vegas this past Friday, which clinched the Lobos a spot in the Mountain West Conference Tournament, didn't seem to faze her first-year pups.
It was her sophomores who seemed a bit on edge.
"The group that seemed the most jittery were the sophomores," said Vela. "They were one of the first groups of freshmen not to reach the tournament. I don't think they felt they got it done last year and they really wanted to get there bad."
The Lobos got to the MWC tourney by virtue of their 2-1 win over the Rebels on Oct. 31, but even a loss would have placed the University of New Mexico in the tourney's bracket thanks to other league teams losing their final games.
Still, Vela and her Lobos were glad they showed the fortitude and the character to win a critical league game on the hostile road.
"I'm pleased we got there (MWC tourney), but I'm more pleased in the way we got there," said Vela. "Some of us might have been a little nervous, a little wound up too tight, but we showed a lot of character and class in winning that game. We didn`t want to rely on anyone else. We wanted to win our game and end our regular season with a win."
The win places the Lobos in almost exactly the same place they were on Friday. They are playing Vegas in Vegas, but this time there is no potential help in the background from any other MWC team.
If the Lobos win, they advance. If the Lobos lose, their season is over.
And if they win at 4 p.m. Wednesday, the bracket only gets tougher as the Lobos advance to play No. 1 seed Brigham Young, who got a first-round bye along with the No. 2 seed Utah Utes. Utah plays the winner of Wednesday's game between TCU (3) and San Diego State (6).
"Our conference is so competitive that anybody can win at a given moment," said Vela. "It's who gets emotional at the right time, maybe who scores the first goal. It's a momentum thing. I know BYU is the No. 1 seed, but the No. 6 team could win it, too.
"I don't think any of us (Lobos) care who we are playing against. We just know we have to bring our A game and we have to play pretty much flawless soccer. But this group really believes in themselves."
Vela's Lobos have had good success in the MWC tourney reaching the championship match in 2002 and 2005 and making the semis in 2003 and 2006. Still, a goal for this year's team was to make the tourney since the roster was peppered with 15 freshmen.
Vela says her freshmen are talented and confident, just like the rest of her 2008 Lobos.
"We all wanted to get to this tournament so bad, because we know what can happen if you just get there," said Vela. "We know that in almost every game we lost or tied this year, we played good enough to win. We went into our last game maybe looking at a do-or-die situation and they showed the character to go out and beat a confident team (UNLV) at home.
"We plan to go out and play as hard as we can and we still expect to win every time we step onto the field."
The Lobos finished the regular season 8-5-5 with a 3-3-1 slate in the MWC race. UNM finished tied with UNLV for the No. 4 spot, but got the higher seed due to the Lobos win over the Rebels.
The winner of the MWC tourney earns an automatic berth to the NCAA Women's College Cup. The Lobos have never made the NCAA tourney. The Lobos have to win three straight in Vegas to end that streak. UNLV is 7-1-0 at home this season, the lone loss to UNM.
Editor's note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous articles are available at The Richard Stevens Corner