Aug. 18, 2005
There is no doubt that the University of New Mexico women's soccer team is entering the 2005 season with a committed attitude. With 29 players checking in this year, the roster is stacked with experienced veterans who have endured challenging seasons and young newcomers who are eager to bring new dynamics to the team. The 2005 season presents a squad that is committed to the program, committed to working hard and committed to achieving more success out on the field.
Head coach Kit Vela is entering her fifth season with the Lobos along with husband and assistant coach Jorge Vela. Their plan for 2005 is to have the team continue its blue-collar style of play, which is working hard for 90 minutes as a unit. Practices will be no different, as the Lobos will be expected to train hard every time they walk onto the field. Vela knows the team already possesses a determined attitude and a strong work ethic. Now, it's time to see the results of the Lobos' hard work during games. She knows this season won't be easy, but she has confidence that her players will give their best efforts to produce a successful season.
The 2005 roster has a good balance of veteran starters and talented newcomers. Goalkeeper Kristen Winters and defenders Nicole McCarty and Nicole Pitcock are New Mexico's three senior team captains while junior midfielder Eryn Paetz is the fourth captain this season. In addition to Paetz, there are nine other juniors that are on the team along with six sophomores and 10 freshmen. Nine newcomers were added to this season's squad, all entering as true freshmen. In looking at positions, Vela has a starting lineup set from what she saw during spring play, but expects all the players to compete for playing time, including the newcomers.
What kind of team do we have coming in this fall?
"A very dedicated, talented group of athletes. We finally have great leadership and great young players, but overall very competitive, very talented and very committed."
Where on the field is the team the strongest?
"I don't think we are going to have one strong end this year. We are going to try to play as a unit. We had a full spring of dedicated players with three seniors to be in the group. I think that the nucleus of players we had in the spring is going to propel us and I think it's very much a unit. I think if we don't work as a unit, we're going to be average again. In the spring, we had a good unit. We played together offensively. We played together defensively."
"We're hoping to do everything as a unit because that will put us with numbers going forward, that will also give us numbers in the back; it will make us a more complete team."
Offensively, the Lobos struggled with putting the ball in the back of the net last season. Vela says the team made plenty of opportunities available for scoring more goals, but was unable to capitalize. This season, Vela hopes several capable players will execute the Lobos' scoring chances more often.
Among these capable players are juniors Kristine Sweat (Concord, Calif.) and Bridgette Sanchez (Rio Rancho, N.M.). Sweat led the team in assists last season while Sanchez recorded two goals and 16 shots in 2004. Other forwards that Vela could call upon are sophomores Katelyn Ley (Marine, Minn.) and Jordan Johnson (Tulsa, Okla.). Both led the team with three goals each in their first year with Ley also leading the team in points scored. Out of the newcomers that could make a huge impact on the Lobo offense are freshmen Hannah Hand (Los Angeles, Calif.) and Asha Richardson (Salt Lake City, Utah). Hand and Richardson bring a lot of speed to the game and were both leading scorers for their respective high school teams.
In the midfield, Vela will call upon the experience of juniors Kaela Kelly (Hesperia, Calif.), Eryn Paetz (San Pedro, Calif.) and Kellee Hafner (Katy, Texas), and sophomore Terryn Granados (Albuquerque, N.M.). Sophomore Anna Neu (Nehawka, Neb.) will also be a presence in the midfield this season. Neu was named to the all-Mountain West Conference second team as a true freshman. She started in 16 games, leading the team in shots and contributing a pair of goals.
What was it that held the team back from scoring more goals last season?
"I think it was a lack of confidence and concentration. I think when you lack confidence you also lack concentration. You're thinking too much. It wasn't for lack of opportunities last year. You can't look at any one game and say the opponent was just so much better that we didn't have any chances to score. We did create opportunities. We were a very attack-minded, aggressive team. We just couldn't put the ball in the back of the net."
"Nothing really comes together when you lack confidence and concentration. Those are the two things that we really focused on during the spring without having to tell the players that's what we were working on, but everything we did was leading to that. They have more confidence, they played a lot in the spring and they scored a lot of goals."
Who do you see stepping up among the forwards this season?
"At the end of the spring it looks like Kristine Sweat and Bridgette Sanchez. They are two very complimentary forwards. They work well together and they work well with the players that have found their way in, but we have good depth up front. We're bringing in some freshmen that can also fill those roles. But right now, Kristine Sweat and Bridgette Sanchez have earned those roles and they play well together."
Who do you have out of the midfielders that will make an impact this fall? "Kaela Kelly is the attacking midfielder with Eryn Paetz sitting behind her as a defensive midfielder and the two wide midfielders would be Kellee Hafner and Terryn Granados. They were a really good unit during the spring. Anna Neu did well coming on. She was a starter for us last year so she can certainly find her way in there. Alanna Abeyta played a little bit in the midfield, in that defensive midfielder role and did a great job, but those original four looked good by the end of the spring. Again, we've brought in some freshmen that can also fill in some of those roles.
The Lobos return a solid base of experienced defenders to the back line this fall, including the return of standout goalkeeper senior Kristen Winters. Winters, the 2002 MWC Goalkeeper of the Year, returns for her sixth season after receiving a medical hardship extension from the NCAA. The Lakewood, Colo. native is the Lobos' all-time leader in shutouts (17) and wins (20).
Vela is looking for a group of defenders to contribute to the team unit by holding up a strong defense which will allow the midfielders to go forward and in return allow the forwards to go on a more aggressive attack. A pair of seniors in Nicole McCarty (Mission Viejo, Calif.) and Nicole Pitcock (Tracy, Calif.) anchor the New Mexico defense. McCarty, a former all-MWC honoree, has started 46 games in her career as a defender while Pitcock, a converted forward, brings good speed and tenacity to the position. Sophomore Amber Wetsch (Albuquerque, N.M.) will also be in the rotation after showing great potential last season. Junior Ashley Lowery (Santa Rosa, Calif.) will continue to be a strong defensive presence after starting 34 games in her first two years and junior Alanna Abeyta (Albuquerque, N.M.), who started all 17 games last year on the defensive line, could establish herself as a starter again this year.
Who do you see playing a significant role on defense this season?
"In the back, we have Nicole McCarty on the right side and Nicole Pitcock on the left side, both talented seniors. At our center back positions, Ashley Lowery has been outstanding, and now we're looking to see who will be able to fill that second position. (Sophomore) Erica Freese had won that other role, but she injured her knee and probably won't be available until later in the season. So now it's betweenAlanna Abeyta and (junior) Samantha Sullivan. Again, there are some very talented freshmen who will push hard to play, too."
The Lobos will have plenty of opportunities to play in front of a familiar crowd as they host nine home games at the UNM Soccer Complex, including back-to-back weekend tournaments.
The first game of the season is at home against 2004 opponent Montana (Aug. 26). The Grizzlies are a two-time NCAA tournament participant and boast three Big Sky Conference titles in regular season and tournament play.
The next weekend, New Mexico welcomes Alabama (Sept. 2), Eastern Washington (Sept. 4) and Akron to the Nike Classic.
The following weekend, New Mexico plays tournament host one more time for the UNM Classic. Arizona State, Auburn and Syracuse will travel to Albuquerque for the tournament weekend with the Lobos taking on Auburn (Sept. 9) on the first day and Syracuse (Sept. 11) on the second day. Auburn is coming off a successful 2004 season as it finished with a SEC West Conference Championship title and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
The Lobos then kickoff their road schedule at the Cats Classic in Tucson, Ariz. (Sept. 16-18). While there they are set to play California State Fullerton (Sept. 16) and Arizona (Sept. 18). Arizona finished the 2004 season ranked 13th in the nation and advanced to the NCAA tournament.
UNM will wrap up its non-conference schedule with a road trip to Nevada-Reno (Sept. 23) and a home match against Idaho (Sept. 25).
What do you think it says about New Mexico women's soccer that other top schools want to come play in Albuquerque?
"I think it shows respect. They know we're a good team and we're going to give them a good game. It's a great facility, a great environment. Why not come to New Mexico."
The conference schedule this season poses challenges to the Lobos more than ever now with the addition of TCU.
New Mexico will travel to Utah in the first weekend of conference games where it will face BYU (Oct. 6) in Provo and defending conference tournament champions Utah (Oct. 8) in Salt Lake City.
The Lobos are then back in Albuquerque to challenge San Diego State (Oct. 14) and defending regular season champions UNLV (Oct. 16).
After road dates with Wyoming (Oct. 21) and Air Force (Oct. 23), UNM closes at home against conference newcomer TCU (Oct. 29).
What do you think about this season's schedule?
"It's a tough schedule. It's hard to say where we will fall in conference, although, I think every team in the conference has the ability to win. Every year the conference has gotten better, stronger and more competitive since we got here four years ago. I want us to compete, as we're capable of competing. No "excuses." We need to take one game at a time, non-conference and conference. We need to focus on 90 good minutes for each game and find a way to win. I think if we do those things properly, we are going to be very successful. We have the ability. We are right there. Now it's just getting out on the field and doing it."