New Mexico Lobos Women’s Soccer – 2014 Preview
Friday (Sept. 5): 1 p.m., Lobos vs. Marquette at Colorado Springs, Colo.
Sunday (Sept. 7): 10:30 a.m., Lobos vs. Weber State at Colorado Springs, Colo.
There is a word that Lobo Coach Kit Vela can’t help but use over and over when discussing what her 2014 Lobos will bring to the soccer pitch in 2014.
She uses it when discussing her attacking players. She uses it when evaluating her midfield. The word pops up again when discussing her backfield.
Yep, the 2014 University of New Mexico Lobos women’s soccer team is young.
How many seniors, you ask? Just one: Alexis Leyba.
Maybe on Senior Night this season the Lobos will just change that title to “Leyba Night.” Vela has seven juniors on this year’s squad and the rest of the 2014 Lobos are sophomores and freshmen.
“There is a lot of youth,” said Vela. “We are on the young side.”
The Lobos also are behind when it comes to games played. The Lobos cancelled their season opener with Texas Tech on Aug. 22 and open this Friday in Colorado Springs vs. Marquette. The Golden Eagles went into the season ranked No. 15, but fell out of the poll after opening the season 1-3-0.
Still, Marquette has four games under its cleats. The Lobos haven’t played since an Aug. 16 exhibition at Arizona.
“It’s not an easy game to start with under any circumstances,” said Vela. “What our young team needs is experience and repetitions that come through playing. We will be figuring a few things out on the fly up in Colorado.”
What Vela does have going for her in 2014 is a lot of youthful enthusiasm. This young New Mexico team has a chip on its shoulder and is ready to face an opponent. After Marquette, the Lobos will play Weber State on Sunday up in Colorado Springs.
“Sometimes there are fewer nerves when you start your season on the road,” said Vela. “It becomes a business trip. You travel, you do your job, you come home.”
Vela also has another challenge early in the season. She has 22 players who have to sit out one game apiece as part of a team punishment. They don’t all have to sit out at the same time, but the benchings have to occur as soon as possible – while still allowing Vela to field a full team.
The good news for Vela is that her 2014 Lobos have a roster that is deep with talent.
“I like our depth,” said Vela. “We have a lot of talented bodies and we have a lot of ability, but now we need to find chemistry and rhythm. That’s a tougher process when you are sitting girls out, so our true chemistry and rhythm might come down the road.”
Vela would like to have her team in sync -- with all Lobos playing – by Sept. 26 when UNM opens the Mountain West season at Fresno State. The Lobos will have played five games prior to that MW opener on the road. That could mean the Lobos will be shorthanded at least four players in each of those five games.
The Lobos were picked to finish fourth in the Mountain West’s preseason poll. San Diego State was picked to finish first with Colorado College a strong second. Boise State was picked third in the 12-team race. The SDSU Aztecs are the defending MW champions and return 14 letterwinners and six starters from a team that went 9-1 in the 2013 MW battles.
“It’s going to be a very, very competitive conference,” said Vela. “I think every team has a shot at the title this year. I don’t’ think anybody is going to run over anybody. There are some teams with a little more experience, but I don’t see a strong favorite.”
Colorado College joins the MW this season after jumping over from Conference USA where it won the 2013 title. The Tigers return 16 letterwinners and six starters to quickly get attention from the 12 MW coaches who voted in the preseason poll.
A fourth-place nod for the young Lobos probably was a reflection of the respect this program has earned over the past several seasons that include Mountain West crowns in 2010 and 2011. Vela’s Lobos also advanced to the NCAA College Cup in 2010 and 2011.
If the Lobos are to race past San Diego State and Colorado College to the 2014 regular-season title, Vela’s young Lobos will have to grow up in a hurry.
“I think we are more dynamic than we have ever been,” said Vela. “What we need is to play some games so the team can build the chemistry links it needs and we as coaches can figure out exactly where our depth is. We need repetition and time. But we have high expectations of this group.”
The Lobos have some blue-chip experience in Leyba and also in keeper Cassie Ulrich of Rio Rancho. Ulrich did not play as a freshman and then never left the pitch last year. She had nine shutouts in her 21 games in the net and posted a brilliant 0.85 goals-against average. Leyba started all 21 games in 2013 for the 8-10-3 Lobos, playing 1,936 minutes.
“Our defense is young, but aggressive and we have good size in the backfield,” said Vela. “That defense also has good leadership behind it in Cassie. We expect them to play older than what they might show on paper. It’s an aggressive group and if they make aggressive mistakes, I can live with that.
“Our midfield is young with only Alexis (Leyba) as a senior starter, but we have a lot of talented bodies we can rotate in there.”
If the Lobos need to change one thing in 2014 from 2013, it’s getting the ball into the net more. The Lobos of 2013 were dynamic front to back, and exceptional on defense, but lost nine games by a single goal. UNM played eight overtime games in 2013 and had six one-goal wins.
The Lobos of 2013 scored 20 goals in 21 games for a 0.95 average per game. Lindsey Guice scored five goals last year and Dylann O’Connor scored four and added three assists. They are back in 2014 as juniors and Vela expects that experience to show – and score.
“We have depth in our attacking group,” said Vela. “They just need to find the rhythm that you need in attacking. Scoring is always the hardest part for every team, but even more when you are young up front. There are very few young teams that come out and score a lot of goals. We are still young, but they got some experience attacking last year.
“This is a hungry team and they have a lot to prove. This is a group that will be fun to watch and will play aggressive and physical. They love the game.”
NEW MEXICO LOBOS WOMEN'S SOCCER 2014 ROSTER
|Hometown (Prev School)|
|0||Cassie Ulrich||GK||5-5||RJr.||1L||Rio Rancho, N.M. (Rio Rancho HS)|
|1||Laura DeMers||GK||5-10||RFr.||RS||Tucson, Ariz. (Catalina Foothill HS)|
|2||Katie Hinman||MF/F||5-7||RSo.||RS||Mission Viejo, Calif. (Capistrano Valley HS)|
|3||Dylann O'Connor||MF||5-4||Jr.||2L||West Hills, Calif. (El Camino Real HS)|
|4||Lindsey Guice||MF/F||5-5||Jr.||2L||Ft. Collins, Colo. (Rocky Mountain HS)|
|5||Ari Jo Eddings||MF||5-4||RFr.||RS||Albuquerque, N.M. (La Cueva HS)|
|6||Savannah Viola||MF/F||5-6||So.||1L||Monrovia, Calif. (Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy)|
|7||Ruth Bruciaga||MF/F||5-8||So.||1L||Albuquerque, N.M. (Volcano Vista HS)|
|8||Alexis Leyba||MF||5-6||Sr.||3L||Long Beach, Calif. (Long Beach Polytechnic HS)|
|9||Emily Chavez||D||5-9||RFr.||RS||Albuquerque, N.M. (La Cueva HS)|
|10||Eileen Zendejas||F||5-2||RFr.||RS||Santa Ana, Calif. (Foothill HS)|
|11||Brooke Webster||D||5-9||So.||1L||Huntington Beach, Calif. (Edison HS)|
|12||Quincy Slora||F||5-6||RFr.||RS||Stafford, Va. (North Stafford HS)|
|13||Maddie Irwin||MF/D||5-8||So.||1L||Tucson, Ariz. (Catalina Magnet HS)|
|14||Claire Lynch||MF||5-0||Fr.||HS||Albuquerque, N.M. (Volcano Vista HS)|
|15||Olivia Ferrier||D||5-3||Jr.||1L||Albuquerque, N.M. (Volcano Vista)|
|16||Cassie Hanson||F||5-8||RSo.||1L||Ogden, Utah (Ogden HS)|
|17||Chandler Zitzmann||D||5-5||Jr.||SQ||Highlands Ranch, Colo. (Heritage HS)|
|18||Maddie Parker||D||5-9||RFr.||RS||Tucson, Ariz. (Catalina Foothill HS)|
|19||Annie Wheeler||MF/D||5-8||Jr.||2L||Arlington, Texas (Arlington HS)|
|20||Casey Murphy||MF/F||5-7||Fr.||HS||Mission Viejo, Calif. (Capistrano Valley HS)|
|21||Alexa Cabrales||D||5-2||Fr.||HS||Mission Viejo, Calif. (Mission Viejo HS)|
|22||Lauren Shull||MF||5-4||RSo.||SQ||Albuquerque, N.M. (St. Pius X HS)|
|23||Alyssa Coonrod||MF||5-7||Jr.||1L||Albuquerque, N.M. (Volcano Vista)|
|24||Madisyn Olguin||F||5-7||RJr.||2L||Perris, Calif. (Santiago HS)|
|25||Ashley Ballantyne||MF||5-7||Fr.||HS||Laguna Hills, Calif. (Capistrano Valley HS)|
|31||Isabella Jimenez||D||5-8||Fr.||HS||Albuquerque, N.M. (Albuquerque HS)|
|33||Shelby Zellner||D||5-0||Fr.||HS||Albuquerque, N.M. (Eldorado HS)|
|35||Alyssa Martinez||D||5-3||Unk||Hatch, N.M. (Hatch Valley HS)|