Aug. 12, 2004
When the University of New Mexico women's soccer team hit the field for the 2003 season, it quickly realized that the road to success was not going to be a paved one. The young force of players struggled through a competitive schedule and was tested on all levels. Physically and mentally, the Lobos took a pounding, but underneath all the bumps and bruises, a seed was planted. By the end of the 2003 run, UNM was comprised of a young group of athletes and a coaching staff who had been through a trying year and were tired of letting wins slip through the cracks. Head coach Kit Vela, who is entering her fourth year with UNM, took last season as a necessary lesson for her young players to learn.
"Obviously, last season was tough with wins and losses," said Vela. "We may have gotten the shots off against top opponents, but we could not find the back of the net enough to win. We are hoping with the experience the young players gained last season, we will be able to make our own luck this year."
The Lobos are optimistic when it comes to making their own luck in the upcoming 2004 campaign. Although UNM finished 2003 with a 3-12-4 record, eight of those games went into overtime, the most ever for UNM in one season, and at any given time the team had six or seven freshmen on the field. This season, the squad is eager to take its hard earned experiences and capitalize on more opportunities and limit their mistakes.
With nine newcomers joining 22 returning letterwinners, the 2004 team will be the largest ever assembled in the 13-year history of the program. The packed roster is teeming with young talent. Nine freshmen, 14 sophomores, six juniors and two seniors are at the helm, including 12 talented New Mexico natives which Vela is proud to have represent the state.
"Hopefully, other young players from New Mexico can identify with our local athletes," said Vela.
Overall, she believes that with UNM's fresh intensity and youthful energy the team will be one of the most exciting to watch.
"This team is so competitive and athletic," said Vela. "There are 31 players on the roster who are competing for a spot and they will make each other work harder. I think we are stronger, fitter and more athletic. There is a new desire in this team to compete and to try to win. We are young, but that's not to say a young team can't win. You never know what that lack of experience will give you in highly competitive matches. What we know we will get is hard work and athleticism from each of these players, and so we are definitely looking forward to the fall. This is a team unit and that is the way they are going to play."
The 2004 season will be a clean slate for the New Mexico women's soccer team to build a stronger and deeper group of athletes. With hard work, drive and having gained valuable experience at the collegiate level, the Lobos will have the ability to make 2004 a successful year.
Unifying the large roster will be one of UNM's main objectives. Vela has confidence in all the players coming in this fall, but knows finding chemistry will count the most during games. In looking at each position, the Lobos will have to construct a group of forwards, midfielders and defenders who will be able to gel quickly and execute on a team-oriented level.
"I believe every player we have this season is good," said Vela. "Some have more experience than others, but it's all going to depend on who gels and what works the best. It's all about the chemistry. I think if we can get the unity on the field we can be very successful this season. A team of unified players can do great things."
The Lobos are looking to create chemistry among a solid mix of players on the front line. UNM returns a strong nucleus of veterans to the forward position in seniors Coco D'Angelo (Mission Viejo, Calif.) and LeAnne Hendren (Belen, N.M.), juniors Nicole Pitcock (Tracy, Calif.) and Laura Hafner (Katy, Texas) and sophomores Amy Nelson (Santa Rosa, Calif.), Kristine Sweat (Concord, Calif.), Brigitia Lacovara (Edgewood, N.M.) and Alicia Lacovara (Edgewood, N.M.). The Lobos also introduce several young hopefuls up front in freshmen Jordan Johnson (Tulsa, Okla.), Katelyn Ley (Marine, Minn.), Kim Melton (Los Alamos, N.M.) and Kim Tebo (Albuquerque, N.M.). The task for the forwards will be to work together and take advantage of opportunities.
"We are looking for players to step up and score goals," said Vela. "Our forwards need to be more of a team unit, attacking and defending in unison. There needs to be a balance among the group, all focused on putting the ball in the back of the net."
Vela believes with the right combination of returners and newcomers, the forward team will be stronger than ever.
"I would like to see both of our seniors step up," said Vela. "We have a solid base with our returners and then new dynamics with the freshmen we are injecting into the front line. What it will all come down to is finding the right mix of players."
During 2004 spring play, UNM boasted several young and talented athletes in the midfield. This season the Lobos return with the same youth and energy seen in the spring and a few promising freshmen who will help add depth and talent.
Returners Brittany Emerson (Capistrano Beach, Calif.), Kellee Hafner (Katy, Texas), Bridgette Sanchez (Rio Rancho, N.M.) and Kelly Campbell (Greeley, Colo.) will be called upon to use their veteran experiences in the midfield. Transfer Kaela Kelly (Hesperia, Calif.), who joined UNM in the spring, will also be a key sophomore midfielder for the Lobos. Vela sees all five players as strong assets to the midfield and hopes to introduce several newcomers to the mix.
Freshman Anna Neu (Nehawka, Neb.) is at the top of the list for possible young starters. Following Neu will be Albuquerque product Terryn Granados. With two hopeful newcomers and five solid returners, the midfield looks deeper than last season.
"We finally have some talented depth in the midfield," said Vela. "We are really encouraged about the players coming back and the freshmen we are adding; we'll get to try exciting new things with the hopes of fitting the pieces of the puzzle together and creating a solid nucleus for the team."
UNM's backline is also young this season with the oldest player checking in as a junior. The young defending group will add plenty of energy and athleticism to the entire UNM squad as they work to find a strong bond among each other.
"These players are eager to work together as 'the no goal patrol' and make a difference on the defending line," said Vela.
Returning defenders are junior Nicole McCarty (Mission Viejo, Calif.) and sophomores Eryn Paetz (San Pedro, Calif.), Samantha Sullivan (Albuquerque, N.M.), Alanna Abeyta (Albuquerque, N.M.) and Ashley Lowery (Santa Rosa, Calif.). McCarty and Paetz bring the most experience to the group of defenders. They will be called upon to show leadership on the Lobo backline while Sullivan and Abeyta look to step forward after showing great potential during the spring season. Lowery worked as a steadfast central defender last fall for the Lobos and Vela would like to see her take more of a leadership role in 2004.
Added to the mix of returners will be freshmen Amber Wetsch (Albuquerque, N.M.) and possibly Katelyn Ley. Both freshmen defenders have the potential of contributing valuable skills in the back.
Between the posts will be returning junior Kristen Winters (Lakewood, Colo.). Vela has the utmost confidence in the veteran goalkeeper and is excited to have Winters' presence on the field once again.
"Kristen has been phenomenal for us," said Vela. "She is excellent at dictating the tempo back there with the youth in front of her."
Returning sophomore Andrea Winter (San Bernardino, Calif.) had a solid spring outing. She will work as second in command as a Lobo goalkeeper as she vies for a starting position.
"It's up to Kristen and Andrea to compete for the starting position," said Vela. "They will help each other become stronger and better."
Waiting in the wings as an up-and-coming UNM goalkeeper, is freshman Shannon Adragna (Albuquerque, N.M.). Vela would like the newcomer to use her first season as a time to learn goalkeeping at the Division I level. The New Mexico native is very athletic and a player Vela is looking forward to seeing more of in the future.
The Lobos are set to host six games at the UNM Soccer Complex this season. The majority of competition will be on the road with 10 away games during the regular schedule run. Home or road, New Mexico has a competitive lineup to tackle. For the season opener, UNM will face Cincinnati, who was a NCAA playoff team two years ago, and Purdue, who made it to the Sweet 16 last season before losing to North Carolina. For New Mexico's first two home matches, it will face strong opponents in Portland State and Texas Tech. After their first weekend at home, the Lobos are back on the road to meet tough West Coast competitors Washington State (Pac-10) and Loyola Marymount (WCC). Fresno State, Hawaii, Montana and Northern Arizona round out the non-conference portion of New Mexico's schedule.
The rest of the fall season will be against Mountain West Conference teams. When looking at the conference lineup, the competition is just as stiff. Last season, BYU and Utah were in the top-25. The Utes won the 2003 conference title while BYU fared better in the post-season, going all the way to the final eight. The Lobos will also need to be ready for UNLV, San Diego State, Air Force and Wyoming as all teams are extremely competitive each year. Vela strongly believes the MWC is one of the toughest in the nation.
"Our conference is very difficult - rated ninth in the country," said Vela. "The fact that only two teams are at sea level and the rest are at altitude shows how other variables make the Mountain West Conference highly competitive, in addition to the talented teams."
A new experience awaits the 2004 UNM women's soccer team. The talent, athleticism and heart each player brings to the field should make for an exciting season of New Mexico women's soccer. Under the guidance of Kit and Jorge Vela, and with new assistance from Damon Lucero, the team will take the upcoming fall season as a time to unify and play as a collective group. They will use what they learned last season and try to make their own luck in 2004.