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Friday, December 19, 2014

Lobo men's soccer confident about second C-USA season

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By Sergio Jiménez / New Mexico Daily Lobo

New Mexico men’s soccer coach Jeremy Fishbein glances at fans exiting the stands after the NCAA tournament home game against Penn State on Dec. 1. The Lobos have been selected as preseason favorites in Conference USA and open their season with a home exhibition game on Aug. 18 against Fort Lewis.

The UNM men’s soccer team proved its worth last year during its inaugural season in Conference USA by going 7-1-1 and winning the regular-season title.

This year the team is coming back to show that its first-year success in C-USA was not beginner’s luck.

On Wednesday, Conference USA announced that the UNM men’s soccer team is the preseason favorite to take the conference championship. The decision was made by a preseason vote among the league’s head coaches, who gave the Lobos seven out of a possible nine first-place votes.

“It’s great to be thought of highly by your peers,” head coach Jeremy Fishbein said. “I’m proud of our team, and I’m excited for the season, but our focus right now is on the preseason. We haven’t given much thought to conference play because that’s still a ways off.”

The Lobos are among the favorites nationally as well.

UNM was voted fifth in the NSCAA Preseason Poll, a poll of soccer coaches across the nation. Last year’s NCAA champion Notre Dame was No. 1, followed by Maryland (No. 2), Virginia (No.3) and UCLA (No. 4).

This is the highest NSCAA preseason ranking for the Lobos since they were ranked third in 2006.

This season the Lobos will have six matches against teams that rank in the top 30: UCLA, Akron, Old Dominion, Cal State Northridge, Charlotte and UAB.

“There’s going to be some great competition within the conference,” Fishbein said, “but we have a team that’s going to embrace the pressure. This is a really tough conference to compete in.”

The Lobos are represented on the preseason All-Conference USA team by senior defender Mathew Gibbons and junior midfielder Ben McKendry.

In 2013 Gibbons played more than 1,800 minutes (1,835) for a third-straight season. He also helped the Lobos record 11 shutouts.

McKendry started in all 22 matches for the Lobos last year and played a total of 1,887 minutes. He recorded five goals and one assist last season.

“We have a lot of players that are deserving of being named to the all-conference team,” Fishbein said. “I’m confident that at the end of the season we’ll have more than two Lobos on the all-conference team. I’m happy for Matty and Ben, but first and foremost it’s a team game, and any individual success guys may have is a result of the team’s effort.”

The Lobos also excelled off the field last season. With a 3.495 they achieved the highest GPA among all men’s soccer teams in the conference. That GPA was the third highest among all men’s Conference USA sports.

Fishbein said he was proud of the team’s commitment to excellence in academics, in the community and on the field.

“As a coach, I can’t ask for anything more. I love our team,” Fishbein said.

The Lobos begin preseason with a home exhibition game against Fort Lewis on Aug. 18. The first regular-season match will be a home match against Akron on Aug. 29.

Isabel Gonzalez is a freelance sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached via email at sports@dailylobo.com.