Sept. 15, 2011
New Mexico Lobos Women's Soccer - At the Lobo Soccer Complex
What: 2011 Lobo/Nike Invitational
Friday: 7 p.m., Cal State Fullerton at Lobos; 5 p.m., UC Riverside vs. North Texas
Sunday: 1 p.m., UC Riverside at Lobos; 11 a.m., Cal State Fullerton vs. North Texas
GoLobos.com: Game Story, Stats, LoboTV, All-Access
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The premise here is a bit twisted, but it's really a good thing that the New Mexico Lobos women's soccer team steps into the Lobo Soccer Complex riding a two-game losing skid.
Confused? OK, we're not saying that the losses are better than wins. They aren't. But what those losses to Oregon State and Washington represent are really the same thing that the prior wins at Cal State Northridge and UC Santa Barbara represent.
That Kit Vela's Lobos are willing to take on all comers and even take it on the chin, if the experience makes them better down the road - like for Mountain West play, like for NCAA play.
"We're at the point in our program where we have to play those teams," said Vela of her 3-3-2 Lobos. "Our players, our soccer, our level of play are right there. We just still have some younger players who have to learn things about playing at this level. We walked away with some losses, but we have learned and that will pay off.
"We played good teams with good athletes playing in good soccer conferences and we're right there with them. We are learning what we need to do to get to that next point. We aren't frustrated in how we played, but we aren't happy that we didn't win."
The place the Lobos would like to reach Friday and Sunday in the Lobos/Nike Invitational is that spot on the winning side of the scoreboard. UNM is a couple of plays away from being undefeated as the Lobos' three losses all came by a single goal - all on the road.
The Lobos will be at home this weekend, but the competition hasn't changed. They play Cal State Fullerton at 7 p.m., Friday and play UC Riverside at 1 p.m., on Sunday. "They are very good teams full of California kids," said Vela.
Vela's Lobos are a nice mix, including 14 California kids and nine New Mexico kids. UNM has played 17 Lobos 100 minutes or more and 12 players have played 300 minutes or more. It's possible the UNM roster, and playing time, will tighten up as the Lobos near MW play, which begins Sept 30 at San Diego State.
"We are still figuring out which players have the mentality to contribute right now," said Vela of her 30-Lobo roster that features only seven seniors. "Some of them will gain mentality over time, but we are looking for the ones who have the mentality, the chemistry, the attitude to produce right now."
The Lobos have played solid defense this season behind keeper Kelli Cornell, who has a 0.69 goals-against average. "Kelli has been outstanding and we've given up fewer shots than we've ever given up," said Vela. "There wasn't a lot she could do on the goals scored against us."
The fickle spirits that haunt the soccer fields -- Fat Chance and Lady Luck -- have not been kind to the Lobos when it comes to banging balls into the back of the net.
The Lobos have outshot the enemy 118 to 73 and have 47 shots on goal to 24 for opponents. However, UNM has been outscored five goals to four over the past six games. The Lobos have not scored more than one goal in a game over the past six games. That puts a lot of pressure on your defense.
The Lobo attack has been hurt by the loss of senior striker Jordan Craig, who is out for the season with an injury.
"Jen is getting doubled and tripled and there are some games where they just go out there and beat on her," said Vela. "Teams are keying on her. What I say to the other players is, `OK, who is going to step up with Jen?'
"Jordan had the mentality, the experience and all the intangibles you look for up front,. The girls looking to step up have the talent, but they need to figure out that other stuff right now. We don't have time to wait on them to figure it out."
That's exactly right. Because a bunch of California girls will be visiting this weekend and the Mountain West race is about two weeks away.