Nov. 9, 2010
LOBO WOMEN'S SOCCER - 2010 NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS
First/Second Rounds: Notre Dame's Alumni Stadium - South Bend, Ind.
Friday: Lobos vs. Notre Dame, 5:30 p.m. (MT) ; Illinois vs. USC, 3 p.m. (MT)
Sunday: Winners play at 11 a.m. (MT)
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
To say it's Cinderella vs. one of the old queens of the NCAA soccer ball, isn't really a dramatization of Lobos vs. Notre Dame.
The New Mexico Lobos are looking to roll out a Cinderella-type story, jam their talented feet into a glass slipper, and dance, dance, dance in their first-ever appearance in the NCAA Soccer Championships.
The Fighting Irish drip NCAA tradition. They roll into NCAA dance for the 18th consecutive year. The Irish have been the Belle of The Ball - national champions - twice.
If you know anything about NCAA women's soccer, you will understand this statement: If it weren't for North Carolina, Notre Dame would be North Carolina.
The Tar Heels, the No. 1 program in the nation, are seeking their 21st NCAA title. The bridesmaid in that giant Tar Heels' shadow? Notre Dame.
But Lobo coach Kit Vela makes a great point. "When they roll out the ball, we're equals," said the 2010 Mountain West Coach of The Year.
Actually, there haven't been too many teams equal to or better than the Lobos in 2010. They rolled to the 2010 regular-season MWC title and roll into South Bend, Ind., Friday with a 12-2-5 mark.
And maybe an underdog chip on their shoulder.
"We got the fourth seed," said UNM's Jennifer Williams, the MWC Offensive Player of The Year. "Notre Dame has been in almost every tournament and this is our first one and they put us against them.
"I think they (selection committee) are saying we are on a different level than Notre Dame. I think we definitely will prove ourselves when we play them."
The Lobos have been proving things for several years on the women's pitch, but Vela admits a ticket to the NCAA dance is "a big deal." It's where soccer teams want to end the season - win or lose, and all but one will lose.
"This is the first time that our program has ever made it and we want to prove ourselves," said UNM keeper Kelli Cornell. "We know how we can play and what we believe in and we just want to prove it to the rest of the country."
A first-round game with Notre Dame is a two-edged sword. You beat the Fighting Irish and you turn some heads. But can you beat `em? Notre Dame is one of only two schools (yeah, North Carolina!) that have won at least one NCAA game in every tournament since 1993.
NCAA BIG EIGHT
No. 1 Seeds
No. 2 Seeds
"It doesn't get any better than this for a student-athlete," said Vela. "You've had this awesome year and you are getting to the playoffs for the first time ever and you are playing Notre Dame.
"That's pretty cool. We get to go to Notre Dame. I don't think anybody on this team has ever been to Notre Dame."
The Fighting Irish of 2010 come into the tourney as the No. 4 seed in the North Carolina region. They posted a 9-0-2 mark in the Big East to win their 13th regular-season crown in 16 years in the league. Their 15-2-2 overall mark and losing in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament probably dropped them to a No. 4 seed.
That 2-0 loss to Connecticut actually accents the dominance of this Notre Dame program. The Fighting Irish had not lost to a Big East opponent in 77 consecutive games - an amazing streak in a game so often defined by "lucky" and "unlucky" bounces. It also was Notre Dame's first loss at home to a Big East opponent in 100 consecutive games.
That loss to UConn might have the Irish fired up to return a victory to their turf.
"Today's game was not representative of what Notre Dame women's soccer is all about, and between now and the start of the NCAA tournament, we'll be working hard to return to the level of success that we expect from this program," said Irish coach Randy Waldrum after that streak-breaking loss."
Junior forward Melissa Henderson, the Big East Offensive Player of The Year, leads Notre Dame offensively with 14 goals and 35 points. UNM's Williams has eight goals and 23 points to pace UNM. Notre Dame's senior Rose Augustin has nine goals and 26 points.
Lobo coach Vela said she will make no major changes on defense to adjust to these high-scoring Irish guns. The Irish also got seven goals from freshman midfielder Elizabeth Tucker.
The other two teams in South Bend are No. 16 Illinois and No. 17 USC, the 2007 national champions. The winners play Sunday at 1 p.m. (MT).
"New Mexico did an exceptional job in winning the regular season title in a tough league like the Mountain West," said coach Waldrum. "I'm sure they're going to be fired up to play on Friday."
The Lobos, despite a stellar season, probably didn't lock down an NCAA bid until they reached the finals of the MWC Tournament last week in San Diego. They lost 1-0 to Brigham Young in the title game. Only UNM and BYU made the NCAA field out of the MWC.
"I'm excited," said UNM's Williams. "It's exciting because you watch (NCAA tourney) on TV and you see the teams play. To know that we're in there and have a chance to be on TV and have other people see us play -- it's a good feeling.
"We just hope that nerves don't get the best of us. Obviously, it's a new feeling and a new experience for everyone on this team. But we're going to go into it with all our hearts and play like we play."
Said Vela: "Focus isn't a problem. Maybe a little bit of nerves. We have everything to gain so let's just go forward. I think they are going to see one heck of a game on Friday night. I think we are going to play well and we know Notre Dame will. They have been there many times before."