New Mexico Lobos at Washington Huskies - NCAA Tournament Elite Eight
Saturday, December 7 at 6 p.m. (MST) - Seattle, Washington
Broadcasted on PAC-12 Network (284 on Comcast, 413/406 on DISH)
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The New Mexico Lobos’ Elite Eight match-up at the University of Washington makes Head Coach Jeremy Fishbein’s Lobos one of only eight college soccer teams still playing in the 2013 season. Saturday night’s match against the Huskies will also be a testament to the Lobo Soccer program and its even-keel mindset.
“It is a special thing, but you can’t let it get too special because you want more. You have to treat it like you’ve treated the rest of your games. You can’t deviate from what got you to this point,” Fishbein stated earlier this week. “That being said, I’ve been impressed with the level headiness of our team. They’re really focused and taking each day for what it is.”
The storylines are there and enticing. New Mexico is playing in its second Elite Eight match ever. It’s been eight years since the 2005 Lobos danced all the way to the national championship match. The other made-for-television subplot has a pair of Lobos at the helm of the Washington men’s soccer program.
The Huskies are coached by Jamie Clark who spent four seasons as an assistant coach under Jeremy Fishbein from 2002 to 2005. Clark’s assistant coach in Seattle is Jeff Rowland, which is another familiar name to Lobo fans. Rowland was a two-time All-American for Fishbein and Clark at UNM. It becomes even more poetic seeing Clark, Rowland, Fishbein and current Lobo assistant coach Brandon Moss were all part of that magical 2005 New Mexico team that advanced all the way to the finals.
What does it say about New Mexico that its Elite Eight opponent is coached by two former Lobos? It says a lot, but it’s not the only thing.
When the Lobos faced Penn State in last week, UNM was one of only three programs in the nation to be playing in its third-straight Sweet 16. That 2-0 win over the Nittany Lions now makes New Mexico the only team left in the NCAA Tournament from a non-BCS conference.
The mantra for this year’s team has been “maintaining a defend-first mindset” because as Fishbein has reminded us time and time again, “the only way to make sure you don’t lose is to not give up any goals.”
The Lobos have done just that recording ten shutouts in twenty matches this year. Goalkeeper Michael Lisch has recorded four of his ten clean sheets on the road this season. He is protected by a Lobo backline that includes Mathew Gibbons and Kyle Venter. Venter, a semifinalist for the 2013 MAC Hermann Trophy, is as decorated a defender as they come.
“I think it’s always a tough one as a defensive player to win that (MAC Hermann) award, but there’s not a better player in the country than Kyle. He’s means a lot to this program. He’s an incredible student, a great leader, a great player,” said Fishbein of his decorated center back.
He is also the 2013 Conference USA Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year. Venter also just became the program’s all-time leader in career minutes played. The tandem of Gibbons and Venter is only half of that UNM backline that hasn’t allowed a goal in this year’s NCAA Tournament. The duo is reinforced by Nick Miele and Riley McGovern who fortify the defense with size and speed.
The 2013 edition of the Lobos are not solely about defending. The Cherry & Silver can score too. Nine different players have scored a goal this season with 13 different Lobos recording at least one point. The scoring is balanced with James Rogers (seven goals), Niko Hansen (seven goals) and Michael Calderon (six goals) leading the attack.
The irony of Saturday evening’s match against the Huskies lies in the numbers. The Lobos are one of only eight teams in the country still playing. A body of work of 20 matches has cemented Lobo Soccer as a player in the world of college soccer. All of that is not enough for these Lobos. They want to keep dancing for that next song.