There’s never a dull moment in UNM Athletics, even on the field, which is why this column is about a month overdue.
With the unexpected four-game winning streak of the UNM baseball team at the Mountain West Conference tournament at the end of May, I stalled on a “2010-11 in review” of Lobo sports.
But the time to look back on Athletics this past year has finally presented itself.
UNM Women’s Soccer
First, I’d like to give a round of applause to the UNM women’s soccer team.
The team advanced to its first NCAA tournament appearance in its history in 2010.
They won the MWC regular-season championship for the first time in school history.
UNM upset rival BYU 1-0 on Oct. 16 to set an exclamation mark on its Cinderella season.
Led by MWC Coach of the Year Kit Vela, the Lobos went 12-2-5 and had an outstanding 6-0 record at home.
UNM had three members on the all-MWC first team (forward Jennifer Williams, goalkeeper Kelli Cornell and midfielder Amanda Collins, Jr.). Williams became the MWC Offensive Player of the Year, while Cornell was voted the Defensive Player of the Year.
Although the Lobos were ousted in the first round by eventual national champion Notre Dame, Vela has a young and talented squad in 2011 that will look to challenge for back-to-back MWC regular-season championships.
UNM Women’s Basketball
On the hardwood, the women’s basketball team found itself a new coach in April with 11-year assistant Yvonne Sanchez.
Former head coach Don Flanagan abruptly resigned after 16 years with UNM and 40 years as a head basketball coach on April 5.
Flanagan said he stepped down because he was simply “tired.”
Flanagan, who was hired on April 16, 1995, compiled 340 wins and 168 losses during his tenure at UNM. He also had 14 straight winning seasons, with 13 straight postseason appearances that included multiple conference tournament championships.
While five freshmen left the team prior to Flanagan’s resignation, Sanchez knows the program and has a chance to excel at the position and get the Lobos back to the NCAA tournament.
After the best season in the history of the program in 2010, the UNM baseball team, led by its charismatic and outspoken head coach Ray Birmingham, stumbled into the MWC tournament on May 24 with a 16-39 regular season record.
But with four straight wins in the tournament — two against top-ranked TCU — the Lobos shocked the Mountain West and won the first conference tournament in the program’s history.
With the title, UNM earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
While the Lobos were ousted immediately in the first round against Arizona State and Arkansas in Tempe, Ariz., many local media members and fans considered the season a success with the trip to the NCAA tournament.
With young pitchers like Jake McCasland, who thrived under the do-or-die conditions of the MWC tournament, and third baseman DJ Peterson and his power at the plate, look for the 2012 Lobos to make a third straight appearance to the NCAA tournament.
Here’s some advice: watch MLB games at home.
But my lecture from head coach Mike Locksley about what his program is and isn’t last July hasn’t stopped me from being a Lobo football fan even after I’ve graduated.
All jokes aside, the 2010 UNM season was by far one of the worst that I, and the school, have seen in at least 20 years.
Going 1-11 for the second-straight season is pathetic.
But Locksley has a third mulligan in 2011, and it’s under one condition: he can’t lose to NMSU for the third straight season.
Locksley and his Lobos need to come out with guns blazing when the Aggies roll into University Stadium on Oct. 1.
UNM Men’s Basketball
You can’t win a championship every season.
So the Lobos’ second-round exit out of the National Invitation Tournament in Alabama and a 22-13 record in 2010-11 isn’t the end of the world. In the last four years, I’ve become one of the biggest fans of head coach Steve Alford. Alford loves it here and will continue to win with UNM.
The Lobos are built to win next year. UNM will have MWC Freshman of the Year Kendall Williams and Newcomer of the Year Drew Gordon back.
Look for UNM to battle with UNLV for Mountain West supremacy in the next few years.