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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Lobos pumped for new conference

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By Sergio Jiménez / New Mexico Daily Lobo

sports@dailylobo.com
@RyanTomari

They’ve been doubted.

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By Sergio Jiménez / New Mexico Daily Lobo
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In a reflection of one of the jerseys hanging in the Maloof building, UNM men’s head soccer coach Jeremy Fishbein talks to the media on Aug. 6.

By Sergio Jiménez / New Mexico Daily Lobo

They’ve been snubbed.

They’ve heard it all when it comes to their chances of ever having success.

So, it’s nothing new for the New Mexico men’s soccer team to be considered underdogs heading into a season, conference play or a tournament.

But when it comes to any lack of success, there is only one thing missing in the halls of the UNM soccer complex: a national championship.

“I think we’re the hardest working team in the country and I don’t think any team deserves it more than we do,” senior midfielder Michael Kafari said. “It’s like that every year and every year we prove (the experts) wrong. The polls and the rankings, that don’t matter to us. What matters to us is every game that we step on the field, we dominate and we win.”

Six straight NCAA tournament berths, which include a loss in a national championship game and two Sweet 16 appearances in the last 10 of 12 seasons, hasn’t kept skepticism from college soccer experts.

Last year included the latest Sweet 16 appearance for the Lobos, a 2-1 loss to then No. 7-ranked Connecticut in double overtime.
In fact, head coach Jeremy Fishbein and his team doesn’t mind the lack of reverence.

“(I) couldn’t ask for much more,” Fishbein said. “But we had a real tough winter and spring, you know, we trained really hard but it was also successful. A big part of the summer, was recovering (from the 2012 season), refreshing, being excited and developing as a team.”

As the 2013 campaign opens Monday with the start of training camp, the only thing that is different for the Lobos is a change of scenery.

Once a powerhouse in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, the Lobos embark against competition in Conference-USA for the first time in the program’s history.

That’s a history of 30 seasons of UNM men’s soccer and 20 years in the MPSF.

Fifth-year senior Kyle Venter, who started and played in all 22 games for the Lobos last season, said he and his teammates await the challenges ahead in 2013.

“It’s a lot of the new experiences and how we’re going to handle it with Conference-USA,” Venter said. “A lot of new travel and new teams and I’m interested to see how this team can handle it. I want to see how our leadership can affect the boys, keep us focused and together so we can pile up some wins this year.”

The leap into C-USA is colossal for UNM.

It will have a bigger impact on the Lobos’ RPI during the course of the season and more recognition to the NCAA tournament selection committee on, and if, the Lobos can qualify for the tourney, it could result in a better seeding if UNM can live up to its season performance.

Fishbein said C-USA is a league in which the Lobos will have to fight to be on top of the league come season’s end.

“I think it’s wide open and there are some great teams.” Fishbein said. “If you base it on last year, you would say Tulsa and Charlotte. I think Old Dominion has been good and Kentucky is on the rise and traditionally, South Carolina has had the most success.”

While Fishbein is looking ahead to the teams that can give UNM fits on the pitch, Kafari said there is excitement in the locker room about being in a new conference.

“All the teams can challenge us and every team is going to be a different challenge,” he said. “But we have to find the right motivation and formula to beat every team.”

Men’s soccer vs. Grand Canyon
Saturday, 7 p.m UNM Soccer Complex