April 17, 2006
UPDATE -- If spring training is any indication, the University of New Mexico women's soccer team is going to be a force to be reckoned with in 2006. With seven seniors and 19 lettermen back from last year's Mountain West Conference Tournament finalist team, New Mexico has not missed a beat over the past two months. Sixth-year head coach Kit Vela's squad recently returned undefeated from a trip to California, where it faced Western Athletic Conference Tournament champion Fresno State, three-time Big West champion Cal Poly and 2005 national runner-up UCLA.
After several weeks of intense training on the practice field, the Lobos played their first college game of the spring on Saturday, April 8 at the SC Premier College Coaches Showcase tournament in Temecula against the NCAA College Cup finalist UCLA Bruins. The roughly 2,000 fans and youth team players ringing the field quickly threw their support behind the tenacious visitors from New Mexico after senior-to-be Bridgette Sanchez (Rio Rancho, N.M.) put-back a deflected shot to give UNM a 1-0 lead midway though the second half. UCLA, however, managed to score the equalizer with 10 minutes remaining off a set free kick play to end the game in a 1-1 tie.
While maintaining that performance is more important that results during the spring, Vela said she was pleased nonetheless with what the team was able to do against an elite team like the Bruins.
"They were very good, but the nice thing was that we played them straight up and didn't look to pack it in," Vela said. "The score wasn't all that important, we wanted to see what we could do and we went at it. We played well, though we still have things to clean up, but the whole team did a great job of doing the right things at major moments."
Later that afternoon, a goal by junior-to-be Terryn Granados (Albuquerque La Cueva HS) and a strong performance between the pipes by redshirt freshman-to-be Kiani Wong (Honolulu, Hawaii) helped New Mexico force a 1-1 draw with Fresno State, another 2005 NCAA Tournament team. UNM finished the weekend by defeating Cal Poly, which has qualified for the NCAA Tournament three of the past four years, 1-0 on Sunday, April 9. Senior-to-be Kristine Sweat (Concord, Calif.), the team's leading scorer last fall, had the game-winner against the Mustangs.
"These results don't guarantee us anything in the fall, but we know that we can play with anybody when we do the right things," Vela said. "Physically, we are where we want to be at this point in the spring. We're fit and strong, but we'll be a lot better in the fall. We can see what we're doing well and we can also see what we need to keep working on, but that's what these games are for."
UNM continues spring training with a pair of games on the road against Northern Arizona and Arizona State on Sunday, April 23 before wrapping up with the Lobo Women's Soccer Alumni Game on Saturday, April 29. The alumni game will be held at 1 p.m. on the UNM soccer practice fields and is free to the public.
GIVING BACKThroughout the spring season, the Lobos have remained active in the community, helping out the less fortunate and young fans during their free time. Last month, the entire team took part in a Habitat For Humanity construction project and several AYSO PowerSkills clinics.
The UNM players helped complete the landscaping for a Habitat house that was dedicated and presented to its new owner on April 1. Albuquerque Habitat For Humanity Chairperson Bob Mennonna said he was impressed by the effort and enthusiasm the team showed on the project.
"I guess it would have been easy for the players to have spent a relaxing Saturday doing anything rather than shovel and rake all day," Mennona said. "It is quite obvious that these are not just good soccer players, but outstanding young women who know the value of contributing to their community. As a former teacher and elementary school principal, I was reminded of the good that so many young people do across this great country, sometimes with little or no notice."
The Lobos also took part in several weekend PowerSkills clinics for the city's young AYSO players. Challenge Commissioner David Ehrhart said the presence of the UNM players was clearly a highlight for the youngsters in attendance.
"I realize that the college athlete has many, many demands on their time and it was wonderful to see the players out there helping, teaching and encouraging our future soccer starts," Ehrhart said. "You should have seen the expressions on the faces of the young players, older players and parents when we announced that the Lady Lobo players were in attendance and would be helping out."
At the University of New Mexico, excellence in soccer, academics and community service go hand-in-hand.