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Away games dominate season

sports@dailylobo.com

The Lobo women’s soccer team will gain a lot of mileage this season.

This year, more so than others, the team will have to face a daunting schedule that includes 13 road games and only five home games. UNM will have to square off against the likes of UT, the University of Georgia and the University of Florida, which is ranked No. 21 in the nation, all on the road.

Head coach Kit Vila said other schools had to cancel their trips to Albuquerque because of lack of funds.

“We had a few teams drop out last minute,” Vela said. “The economy is not helping teams to travel, so they’ll come to us in future years. We put together a great nonconference schedule. We love playing at home, but we’ve got some of the best teams in the country on the road, so we’re excited.”

Natalie Jenks, who was a Second Team All-Mountain West pick last season, said she wished the team had more home games.

“It’s a little disappointing having only five home games,” Jenks said. “But at the same time, the level of competition that we’re getting elsewhere is going to prepare us for conference and hopefully for the NCAAs, too.”

UNM is coming off two straight seasons of qualifying for the NCAA tournament — the team’s first two appearances in school history — and falling in the first round. In 2010, the Lobos lost to eventual national champion Notre Dame 3-0. In 2011, UNM lost a heartbreaker to UCLA 1-0.

Senior forward Natalie Jenks said that this year the team wants to do more than make it to the tournament.

“We always hold ourselves to higher standards each year. So last year, we made it to the first round of the NCAA tournament, so of course we want to go further,” Jenks said. “We said as a team we like to get the top 16, but going past the first round would be an amazing start.”

Senior goalkeeper Kelli Cornell said UNM has drawn the cream of the crop in the first round.

“We had some tough draws the first two times in the tournament, and hopefully we’re looking to have a little better luck with the committee,” Cornell said. “Going into the NCAAs, it’s a new level and it’s a new level of pressure and it’s a different experience.”

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The team is led by eight seniors: Rachel Montoya, Sinead Fleming, Lauren Irwin, Jordan Craig, Stephanie Rowe, Shelbie Luna, Cornell and Jenks.

Vela said the seniors will be the biggest influence on the team’s success this season.

“They’ve been through the program for the last four years with three winning seasons under their belts, with two (MWC) championships,” Vela said. “We’re going to have bumps in the road.

It’s a long short-season, and without great leadership, bumps in the road can become monumental. I think this group is really keyed in on doing the right things for themselves and below them.”

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