Lobos Ready To Dance Versus Virginia In NCAA Tournament Second Round
Nov. 16, 2012
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The University of New Mexico will make its ninth NCAA Tournament appearance in eleven seasons as they will host the University of Virginia in the second round at the UNM Soccer Complex on Sunday, November 18 at 7 p.m. It's an exciting situation made electric with the one-of-a-kind environment the Lobos have at home.
New Mexico (16-3-1) earned an at-large bid as the #13 seed after winning the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation regular season title. While the Lobos came within 16 seconds of clinching a MPSF Tournament title as well, their mission of being one of the top 16 teams in the tournament was accomplished. The top 16 teams receive first-round byes and host second round games in the NCAA Men's Soccer Tournament field of 48 teams.
"It's definitely disappointing to lose on penalty kicks. But the positive spin on it is it keeps you on your toes and you realize you're mortal. After seven straight shutouts, a little reality check probably wasn't the worse thing for us," commented Head Coach Jeremy Fishbein earlier in the week.
The two teams have only met once before. The Cavaliers and the Lobos faced each other in the Sweet 16 of the 2004 NCAA Tournament. Virginia won the game on penalty kicks in a match that saw current UNM assistant coach Brandon Moss manning the midfield for Coach Fishbein and the Lobos.
AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM COACH FISHBEIN
New Mexico finished the season tenth in the country in RPI and ninth in the final regular-season coaches poll. Two of the Lobos' opponents in 2012, UCLA and SMU, both finished the year ranked in the top 25. UCLA won the Pacific-12 with a 12-2-3 record and a fifth overall ranking. UNM toppled then second-ranked UCLA 3-2 in Los Angeles to open the season back in August.
Coach Fishbein and company have shown serious offensive firepower this season. They finished second in the nation in total goals with 52 scores. Devon Sandoval got top billing in the Lobo attack with 14 goals this season, which was eighth most in the country. Sandoval was First-Team All-MPSF after collecting three MPSF Player of the Week and three TopDrawerSoccer.com National Team of the Week awards. While Sandoval was finishing, it was Blake Smith who was a catalyst for many of those goals. His 13 assists this season is second in the NCAA and the second most in program history.
While Smith and Sandoval headline a potent UNM scoring threat, New Mexico has shown depth when it comes to finding the back of the net. Fifteen different Lobos have registered a goal this season in 20 games, which is the most in college soccer.
There is balance with the Lobos, and the defense reminded fans of that in the last eight games of the season. The New Mexico backline and Lobo goalkeepers Victor Rodriguez and Patrick Poblete posted seven consecutive shutouts while conceding one goal in the Lobos' final 755 minutes of the season.
Attacking players who can turn a pitch into the Fourth of July and a defensive mindset that a goal allowed is one too many have the Lobos mentally ready for the Cavaliers. But is Virginia prepared for what's in store for them inside the walls of the UNM Soccer Complex? It's perhaps a textbook definition of a "home field advantage".
"I think playing at home will bring a lot of energy to our guys. It will be a hard game for somebody that's not at all familiar with New Mexico, the western United States or our environment. I think it gives us a great advantage going into this match," Coach Fishbein noted.
Virginia, fresh off their 1-0 shutout of Lafayette College in the first round, comes to Albuquerque with a record of 10-6-4. They're out to show the 2009 National Championship wasn't a one-year wonder. After bowing out in the first round of the tournament in 2010 and 2011, this year's Cavaliers have already advanced its farthest in the NCAA Tournament since their national title in 2009.
Virginia and Lafayette nearly needed extra time to settle their first round match-up in Charlottesville. Will Bates' goal in the 87th minute clinched the win for UVA.
If you're looking for consistency then look the University of Virginia men's soccer program under head coach George Gelnovatch. He's led the Cavaliers to the NCAA Tournament in each of his 17 seasons in Charlottesville. That includes the 2009 National Championship, four ACC Tournament titles and two ACC regular-season championships.
This year's Virginia team is a younger one, and Coach Gelnovatch appreciates the maturation process of his team this year.
"Each game will bring something different, and today we found a way [to win in the first round]. As opposed to the past two years, and we did it with a much younger team. So for me, we're taking one game at a time, the future is now, but the longer we keep playing with this younger team, the better," Gelnovatch said to VirginiaSports.com after the win over Lafayette on Thursday.
Despite coming from the ACC and being a perennial power in college soccer, UVA forward Will Bates believes his team will be the underdogs.
"Now I think the pressure's off of us," Bates said. "Here, we're expected to win, and out there we're not expected to win by anybody."