Aug. 2, 2010
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
It's not a season that Lobo coach Kit Vela tiptoes into with a mouthful of "Maybes," or a handful of "We'll see what happens."
She has firm expectations. Her Lobos have expectations. There is a finish line in mind.
To hammer those expectations onto the table through a single Vela quote, this one might best tell the tale of Lobos for 2010: "I think this is the best team UNM has ever had."
Yeah, that pretty much puts it on the line and pretty much throws a heap of pressure on the Lobos' backs. Vela says no big deal. Her Lobos have been around the block a few times and know what it takes to succeed at a high level. It's time to walk the walk and raise the bar.
The Lobos did just that in 2009. That UNM squad that posted a 13-5-3 mark was one of the better UNM teams in the history of the program, which was established in 1993. Those 2009 Lobos were talented, fast, dedicated, hungry and hard working.
Most of that team returns to Vela in 2010. If anything, the same attributes are there at a higher level and the hunger burns deep. The New Mexico soccer program has never played in the NCAA postseason. This team is good enough to change history.
"This is a team with a lot of desire and expectations for themselves," said Vela. "They are soccer junkies, who love the game and love to go full out. This will be the most athletic team we've had here."
If you saw the Vela Lobos of 2009, that's saying a lot. But so much of last season's talent returns that it's reasonable to expect these seasoned Lobos to kick it up another notch.
What's not to like. UNM returns 20 letterwinners, returns 10 starters, and lost only one starter in defender Jess Quador. The Lobos are loaded up front, in the midfield and at the back. They have one of the best keepers in the league in Kelli Cornell, who will be pushed by freshman Sydney George.
Vela has three seniors on the squad, eight juniors, 10 sophomores and nine true or redshirt freshmen.
"A lot of the juniors have been on the field for two seasons and they know what it takes," said Vela. "They are a seasoned group. Our sophomores are very talented and they also played a lot last year. For sophomores, they are seasoned.
"The freshmen who make the field will be the ones who become acclimated the quickest to what we do and soccer at this level. There is a battle among a lot of talented players to make the field. The best are going to play. They know that and they accept it because they are a great group of kids with a team-first attitude."
The Lobos outshot the enemy 363 to 204 last year with 135 shots-on-goal to 67 for the opponent. UNM returns Jennifer Williams, who had 27 points and 10 goals in 2009. Zaneta Wyne had 11 points and five goals in 2009.
Aug. 20 -- Montana
Aug. 22 -- Nebraska
Aug. 27 -- Wis-Milwaukee
Aug. 29 -- Marquette
Sept. 3 -- New Mexico St
Sept. 5 -- North Texas
Sept. 10 -- Baylor
Sept. 12 -- SMU
Sept 17 -- North Dakota
Sept. 19 -- Boise State
Oct. 1 -- UNLV
Oct. 9 -- San Diego St
Oct. 14 -- Utah
Oct. 16 -- Brigham Young
Oct. 22 -- Air Force
Oct. 24 -- Wyoming
Oct. 30 -- TCU
Nov. 3-6 -- MWC Tourney
Home Games in Bold
"Amanda Collins is probably the unsung hero of this program," said Vela. "She is an elite athlete who can play anywhere. She is a winner and a hungry, hungry kid and the rest of the team feeds on that.
"We have a lot of strong players, but no real stars. It's a hard-working, blue-collar group with a lot of athleticism. It's still a young group, but it's a cohesive unit with a lot of team chemistry, which should be a strength."
The Lobos finished 4-3 in the Mountain West Conference last season and did not escape the bubble for an at-large NCAA bid. Last year's Lobos were talented, but probably not experienced enough to slip off that bubble.
That could change in 2010.
"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.
"We need consistency throughout the season and throughout games. When you get into conference play and you are as young as we are, you sometimes lose focus in remembering that each game is important and every team can beat you."
The Lobo youth of 2009 lost focus a few key times. It cost them. And maybe a year ago they were just too young, not quite ready. But the Vela pups of 2010 are a pretty salty group: deep, athletic, hungry.
"We are going to have an exciting team that will play as a unit and play very hard," said Vela. "Our girls play like there is no tomorrow. No matter what the scoreboard shows at the end of a day, we will never lack in desire or effort."