Stevens: A Lobo win symbolic to a program, important to a team
Sept. 27, 2012
New Mexico Lobos Women's Soccer - Vs. Boise State - Mountain West Conference
When/Where: 6 p.m., Friday - UNM Soccer Complex
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
If Kit Vela's 100th win as a Lobo comes Friday night vs. Boise State, it will be both symbolic for a program and important for a team.
The team importance was succinctly noted by Vela during UNM's weekly news conference this Tuesday. She said the win would make her Lobos 1-0 in the Mountain West race and "conference is our goal."
Yep, that's big. The New Mexico Lobos are looking for their third straight Mountain West Conference regular-season title and no MW team has ever done that.
"We are trying to do something that has never been done in the conference and I think this is a group that can do it," said Vela.
The symbolism of the 100th win reaches deeply into Vela's roots at UNM. She came to New Mexico in 2001 with her husband, Jorge Vela, and took over a program that had stumbled to three consecutive losing seasons: 4-13-2, 6-13-1 and 7-12-0.
Simply put, the Vela's had some changing to do with a program that was started in 1993.
It wasn't easy. Vela's first team in 2001 went 4-12-2, her third team went 3-12-4 and her fourth team went 5-12-0 (1-5-0 in the MW). That was packaged around a 12-8-1 team in 2002.
The challenge for Vela at UNM was an obvious one. She had to convince players from the hot beds of high school soccer to join a few New Mexico girls on a program that had limited success. She had to sell a vision as well as a program - a program with no history of success and no tradition.
It was a tough sell.
"We brought in kids who had won at the club level and who would come here believing they could win," said Vela. "When we got them here, we knew we could work them hard enough to start beating the top teams.
"There are teams that on paper we shouldn't beat. Those teams have national pool or regional pool kids, but you don't need that to win. That's just paper. What you need to win is a belief that you can do it and then you go out and get to work."
The Lobos worked hard and in 2005 the wins began rolling in on a consistent basis. The Vela system kicked in and Vela found Lobos willing to buy into that system. It was a system, a philosophy, based on blue-collar ethics, honest effort, and a got-your-back family-type attitude.
"Some kids came in and watched us practice and said, `I don't want to work that hard.' And that's fine," said Vela. "We found kids who buy into it and kids who believe in it.
"There was some talent here when we took over, but it wasn't enough. But the bigger chore was changing the culture and changing a losing mentality into a winning mentality.
"It took us a few years to get the girls to believe they could do it, that they could win. Once that happened, well, nothing promotes winning like winning and hard work."
There were several Lobo teams that helped push the Lobos to another level. But if you believe that winning breeds winning, you might also believe that winning championships breeds other teams that win championships.
The Lobos learned how to win a Mountain West regular-season title in 2010 and backed that with a MW title and a MW tournament title in 2011. This year they are chasing that Triple Crown and also looking to push their way into the NCAA playoffs for a third straight season.
The "changing" is here.
The Lobos of 2012 are a team with their own personality and on Friday night they probably are simply chasing win No. 1 in the 2012 Mountain West race. But they have the ghosts of a lot of other Lobos behind them who will be represented in Vela's 100th win.
"We have come a long way in 12 years," said Vela. "When we took over this program, we had great vision. To say that we came into a program that hadn't won anything, and this would be our hundredth win - that would be pretty spectacular.
"We used to go onto the field with doubt. Now, we go out with a winning mentality. We expect to win. We believe in ourselves. That makes a difference."