May 4, 2005
Spring training has ended for the University of New Mexico women's soccer team and head coach Kit Vela recently sat down to give her perspective on how the team did during its four months of spring workouts. Intense practices were held, helpful games were played, a lot of hard work was seen in the weight room and most importantly progress was made. Vela said the spring allowed UNM to shape into one of the most competitive and dynamic group of athletes she has ever coached.
The Lobos remain a work in progress, but Vela is excited about the amount of strides made during the spring season and looks forward to what the future holds for Lobo women's soccer.
Spring training is now over. Looking back on the last few months, what do you think the team accomplished?
KV: We took huge strides. Our leaders have evolved. Our style has evolved. Our culture has evolved. The competitive environment is on a whole different level. These players are committed to each other, committed to the program and committed to coming in August and giving everything they have everyday they step out on the field. It's just a completely different environment. There's a winning attitude and it's a team environment. It's a much maturer attitude and it's competitive. I mean that's the bottom line. This group wants to compete.
The team played five other Division I teams this spring (Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Cal State Northridge, Cal State Fullerton and Pepperdine). How helpful was it for the team to play these other programs?
KV: Well, it was the first time we had ever taken a trip to Texas and that trip was immeasurable for our future. We need to play as many Division I teams as we can so we have something to measure ourselves by. Texas A&M is an amazing team. I can see them as a Final Four team next fall and they are actually hosting the Final Four. University of Oklahoma is a Big 12 team that has done very well. I'm sure they are going to be very successful. It's just a different flavor. You play the midwestern teams or the southern teams and you play the California teams and they are all very different. We need to see a mix because the Mountain West Conference is made up of a mix. You can't say all the MWC teams play like the west or they all play like the central. It's kind of a mixture of teams.
In California, I thought we played well against Northridge and Fullerton. It's not really about the results of these games that matter, but how we played. We did get some good complements from people watching the games like we are an exciting dynamic attack team to watch and we're an up and coming team. We were paid some really nice complements like that. It doesn't necessarily mean anything for the fall, it just means we're on the right track. In Texas, I thought we played very well against Oklahoma and we are far from perfect, but we did some really good things. We missed a couple of open opportunities in the second half of that game that should've sealed the game for us. We were ahead 1-0 at halftime and we played well in the first half and in the second half I thought we played well and did some different things. They threw some different things at us and we adjusted. We should've been up 2-0 before they tied the game, but it's the spring and we had some inexperienced players on the field that missed some chances, but that's good. We need to see what they are going to do in those types of situations so come August they've all ready been in that role and we know what they are going to do. I thought the game against Texas A&M was outstanding. We scored a brilliant goal in the first two minutes off a corner kick. So we're up 1-0 and everyone is looking at each other like `Oh my Gosh' and we backed off and Texas A&M said `thank you very much, we're going to tie it up for us.' So we were back to 0-0. So it was 1-1 in the first four minutes I think. We continued to play well in the first half. They went ahead before halftime, but it was a great first half. In the second half, we were a little fatigued. We had played Oklahoma right before. Texas A&M kept coming at us and it was hard to sort things out. I made some changes and it was tough because those players that went in had sat out in the first half and it's hard to come into the second half against a team like A&M because they are a fast and very dynamic team. We could've maybe scored a goal here and there, but we just couldn't figure it out in the second half as a group. It's great to learn from that though. So that trip to Texas was immeasurable.
We go to that tournament in California every year and that was great this spring to go again. All three teams posed different dynamics for us and I thought we did well. Both those trips were in back-to-back weekends and we were down to I think 17 players by the weekend in California. So we were trying to play three games in two days with 17 players and we were a little fatigued, but in all fairness by the end in the Pepperdine game we started to find our legs again and so it showed we are strong and fit. Then we finished up here in Albuquerque with a couple of games against some local teams that again allowed us to work on more tactics. Overall, I thought the girls were outstanding this spring. This is the best spring hands down from the soccer, to the attitude, to the desire, the competitive edge. They were all that this spring.
What kind of mentality did the team have this spring? What kind of goals did they set for themselves?
Remember the spring. Remember how hard we worked, what we did, what we're all about, what we've become and let's have that catapult us into August.
Head coach Kit Vela
During the spring, how important is it to focus on the fitness training and strength training compared to working on fundamentals and tactics?
KV: I think except for fitness, all of that is important to concentrate on in the spring. The strength training is huge because it's the only time of the year they can really go at it and put heavy weight on there and get more explosive and stronger. Once you're in season it's all about just keeping it up and if you get in the weight room a couple times a week for preventative stuff you're lucky. So strength training is huge during the spring. We don't focus a lot on fitness. We did some fitness testing, but we didn't really focus on fitness because that's something we can get by the time August comes around. The girls are going to do their fitness training on their own during the summer. Technical and tactical, that's what the spring is all about. Each player's individual growth from the day they come in January to the day they leave in April. That's what we assess their spring on and if they are technically sound after the first six weeks then they can tactically get better. If they're not technically sound then their tactics don't make a difference anyway. So we really focus on the technical side for the first six weeks and then we get into team training and tactics. We focus on finding a style on the field and understanding what we want to accomplish when out there.
What would you like the players to be thinking throughout the summer as they are training on their own? What should they be telling themselves as they mentally prepare for this fall?
KV: Remember the spring. Remember how hard we worked, what we did, what we're all about, what we've become and let's have that catapult us into August. Take the last day of spring training and let that catapult you into the fall season. I really believe this is a good team right now. We're competitive, we're fiery and we're full of energy. And I think just adding those new recruits will push us into a good future. All of the new players coming in have that same fiery attitude. I think with the good foundation of players we have now and what we're bringing in, remember that because that's what's going to push us forward.