Aug. 21, 2006
The University of New Mexico women's soccer program has high expectations heading into the 2006 season. The Lobos return their leading scorers from a year ago and bring back one of the toughest defenses in the Mountain West Conference. UNM has speed and experience on the roster and will be guided by sixth-year head coach Kit Vela. Vela, who has rebuilt the program since arriving, has the right combination to compete against some of the nation's top programs.
UNM returns every goal scorer from last season and brings a wealth of experience into the new season. The Lobos welcome back seven seniors, including scorers Kristine Sweat, Kaela Kelly and Bridgette Sanchez. Sweat had a breakout season in 2005, leading UNM in almost every offensive category.
"Sweat and Sanchez have come a long way in three years and are good goal scorers," said Vela. "We expect them to have another strong year. As a team we are going to be dynamic. We have a lot of weapons whether it's from the forward or midfield positions. When you have multiple threats it allows you the opportunity to do some different things. The key to the women's game is to have different possibilities to put the ball in the net. We have the players to score and that should be a huge factor for us this season.
"Obviously, Sweat and Sanchez allow us to stay close in every game because they will work hard to score. Sophomore Hannah Hand came along nicely late last season and showed signs of being a true threat. Asha Richardson returns for her sophomore season and could be a key contributor because she has the ability to find the net. Newcomer Mary-Kate Sliter was an All-American last year at the NAIA level so we are excited to see how well she makes the adjustment to Division I soccer. Freshman Ashley Phipps is going to be very good as well but it depends on how quickly she can get acclimated to the different style of play. Last season, we also had five midfielders in Terryn Granados, Katelyn Ley, Kaela Kelly, Kellee Hafner and Eryn Paetz, who could all make things happen."
The Lobos know what it takes to be successful on the field. The UNM program has been built on determination and hard work. Offensively, the Lobos look to be productive.
"For us to have success offensively we have to be patient," said Vela. "When you play great teams like we do it's important to stay in our system and play with confidence. If we can stick to our game plan then we have a great opportunity to do a lot of good things. Over the last eight months, we have come a long way in experience. Our defense has always allowed us to stay in games but we have to find ways to score."
UNM takes pride in having one of the toughest defenses in the Mountain West Conference in 2005. Under Vela's guidance, the Lobos have continued to orchestrate strong defensive teams year in and out. With a talented group of returning players, UNM has the potential to be one of the top defending schools in the conference. The Lobos have the personnel and ability to play aggressive and dominate.
"We have the opportunity to have a very strong defense," said Vela. "We need to defend within our system to be effective. We have to win free balls and play aggressively.
Speed is so important because it allows us to do things on both sides of the ball and we have better team speed then in the past. When you are playing good teams you have to have good speed."
The signature of the UNM defense has always been strength by numbers. The philosophy reflects the determination of Vela and the rest of the team.
"We believe in the philosophy of defending as a team," said Vela. "It's a complete team effort and we have done a great job of keeping the ball out of the net. Our two outside backs and goalkeepers are new but we should be able to quickly make the adjustments. It's key for us to be disciplined and play strong defense to win."
Defensively, the Lobos have several players returning that will play a significant role this season.
"We have our two center backs returning in Alanna Abeyta and Ashley Lowery," said Vela. "They will provide leadership on the field but everyone has to play a huge role. This is a team effort and it's going to take a team effort every minute of every game."
UNM will begin the post-Kristen Winter era at goalkeeper after the four-time MWC honoree finished her career in 2005. The Lobos will look to sophomore Shannon Adragna and freshman Kiani Wong to fill the void in the net. Both have little experience but have the ability to compete at the Division I level.
"We have two great young goalkeepers in Adragna and Wong," said Vela. "They both have the ability to play but its still undetermined who the starter will be. The preseason will be a great test for both of them because we can see who put forth the effort over the summer to win the job. They are both very good and will see plenty of time throughout the year."
UNM has a winning combination of speed and experience that could make this season one of the best in school history.
The 2006 schedule is one of the toughest in the country. The Lobos face some of the nation's toughest opponents each week, including six NCAA Tournament teams from a year ago. A tough schedule is nothing new to the UNM program because Vela continues to find ways to play some of the biggest names in women's soccer, including Texas, UTEP, Purdue, Washington and Washington State.
"I always want to play the toughest schedule we can because it only makes the entire program better," said Vela. "When you play nationally-ranked opponents it gives your athletes confidence and prepares them for conference play. It also helps to develop them as players and builds chemistry within the team." A lot of the athletes on the roster came to UNM because of the opportunity to play ranked teams. It also gives us national exposure and helps us recruit for the future."
UNM has 12 upperclassmen on the roster this season and it wouldn't want to play anything but a difficult schedule.
"It's a great schedule for this team," said Vela. "This is the type of schedule that this team wants to play. The seniors have put in a lot of hard work to get to this point and it's time to match our talent against some very good teams. We are in the right place to compete against a tough schedule like this."
The UNM women's soccer program has a two full-time assistants for the first time in school history. The Lobos are guided by head coach Kit Vela and have high expectations for the upcoming season. Vela, who is the third head coach in school history, has developed the UNM program during her tenure and made remarkable strides in such a short period.
"We finally have a full staff and that means so much to this program," said Vela. "We ask so much from our athletes and it gives them a lot of confidence knowing that the staff and the University support them. We have qualified people working with our program both on and off the field and we have a chance to take it to the next level."
Vela and her husband and assistant coach Jorge Vela, came to UNM five years ago to rebuild the program. Jorge Vela is one of the top goalkeeper coaches in the country and is from his native country, Guatemala, where soccer is life.
During the off-season, Vela announced that Kristen Graczyk was promoted to assistant coach from a graduate assistant position. Graczyk and Jorge Vela bring a wealth of experience to the sideline. Graczyk has valuable playing experience from her career at the University of Connecticut. Also in the spring, UNM added the assistance of volunteer coach Justin Sells. Sells not only brings coaching experience, as a local director of coaching, but also has vested interest in the Lobos. He was an All-American for the UNM men's soccer program during his career from 1994-97. Together the coaching staff plans on putting UNM women's soccer on the national scene and advancing to its first NCAA Tournament.
The 2006 UNM women's soccer team expects and hopes for great things this year. With seven talented seniors returning for one final year in the Cherry and Silver, good things are sure to happen. The Lobos plan on making this one of the best seasons in school history. UNM knows what it's capable of doing and everyone is looking forward to the upcoming season.