New Mexico vs. Penn State (NCAA Tournament Sweet 16)
Sunday, December 1 – 5 p.m. (MST) – UNM Soccer Complex
Stats and video through GoLobos.com - @LoboMensSoccer
When the New Mexico men’s soccer program held their annual media day back in August, an intriguing question was posed to Head Coach Jeremy Fishbein.
“Does going to back-to-back Sweet 16’s affect your postseason goals this season?”
“Our last two seasons have ended in the Sweet 16 on the road at South Florida and UConn, “Fishbein responded. “This year our goal is to be at home for the third round.”
Four months, 19 matches and a conference title later, the New Mexico Lobos are sitting exactly where they hoped to be. They’re hosting the Penn State Nittany Lions in the Sweet 16 of the 2013 NCAA Men’s Soccer Championship at the UNM Soccer Complex. The Lobos are one of only three programs in the country to advance to the Sweet 16 in the last three consecutive NCAA tournaments with UConn and Maryland being the other two.
It’s the only the second time in program history a team has been in this position. Coach Fishbein and the Lobos were at home in the third round of the 2005 NCAA Tournament, which was the magical season that saw UNM make a run all the way to the national championship match.
The path to Sunday’s home NCAA tournament match has not always been that clear. The Cherry &Silver entered their first season of Conference USA play with an uncharacteristic 4-3 non-conference record. Three losses in a season is something this program isn’t used to, let alone in a non-conference season. To make it worse, New Mexico lost three straight matches at home. The Lobos hadn’t done that in two decades.
Yet the lesson of the moment and perhaps the season was; stay the course.
“We felt like we went into our first NCAA Tournament match versus George Mason really battle tested from a tough regular season in our first year in Conference USA. The level of competition week in and week out was higher, and I feel like we elevated our game as the season went on,” Coach Fishbein told the media this week.
After four wins in their first seven matches of the season, Coach Fishbein’s team began to find their form. They rattled off a 7-1-1 record in C-USA play en route to a seventh overall seed in this year’s postseason tournament. Yet there was still some uncertainty going into last Sunday’s second round tournament match against George Mason.
The team was coming off a 3-0 loss to Tulsa in the semifinals of the Conference USA Tournament. How would they bounce back? Would they lose only their second match in their last nine home NCAA matches?
Those questions may have lingered for the first 83 minutes of the match against the Patriots until James Rogers found the back of the net off a Niko Hansen assist in what would prove to be the only goal of the day. Fishbein’s Lobos nearly got an insurance goal in the final two minutes, but Christopher Wehan’s breakaway shot hit the post.
And now the question posed by the Lobo Faithful is rooted in that magical 2005 season. It’s rooted in that eight-year-old history because the Lobos are hosting their first Sweet 16 match since that season.
Can New Mexico advance to its second-ever Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament?
As coaching clichés go; “that’s why we play the games.”
The New Mexico Lobos’ answer will be played out on Sunday evening at 5 p.m. at the UNM Soccer Complex.