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The UNM men’s soccer team walks off the field after a 5-4 shootout loss to Air Force in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament championship game on Sunday. Since 2000, the Lobos have made the College Cup 10 times, and this is the fourth straight season UNM has made the NCAA tournament. The Lobos face Virginia in the second round of the tournament on Sunday at the UNM Soccer Complex.

Lobos look to bounce back in NCAA Tourney

Given their recent history, it is fortunate the New Mexico men’s soccer squad will not face Air Force in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

The Lobos compiled a 0-2-1 record versus the Falcons this season. The teams last faced off on Sunday in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament championship game with a 5-3 shootout loss for the Lobos.

However, UNM was still able to rack up a 16-3-1 overall record, a No. 13 seed in the NCAA tournament and a first-round bye in the College Cup.

UNM will face the University of Virginia on Sunday at the UNM Soccer Complex. The Cavaliers defeated Lafayette College 1-0 in the opening round of the tournament on Thursday.

Despite the discouraging shootout loss to Air Force, UNM is still optimistic, said head coach Jeremy Fishbein.

“The plus side is that it keeps you hungry and keeps you on your toes,” he said. “We need the challenge. In the conference games, the truth of the matter is that our guys thought they could cruise and win their games. It’s not good, but we all know we have to be at our best. When we play some team that is our equal, we play really good.”

Virginia has had one of the most successful programs in the country for the last couple of decades: The Cavaliers have reached the NCAA tournament 32 consecutive times, which is the longest run in the nation. Virginia captured the 2009 title under 17-year head coach George Gelnovatch.

Virginia ranks 15th in Ratings Percentage Index, compared to the Lobos’ No. 10 ranking, but Fishbein said the Cavaliers do not present a cupcake matchup.

“Virginia is a young, talented, perennial power that is more attack-minded. They propose tough challenges,” he said.
Senior Lobo goalie Victor Rodriguez will not be playing due to the NCAA’s single-tournament-game suspension for his punching a South Florida player after the Lobos’ 6-5 shootout loss to South Florida during last season’s NCAA tournament.

Redshirt sophomore Patrick Poblete will take Rodriguez’s place against Virginia. Poblete has received playing time in the previous four matches and started the season-opening 3-2 triumph versus then-No. 2 UCLA. He said the transition to starting his first NCAA tournament game has gone smoothly.

“The preparation hasn’t been any different,” he said. “The only difference these last couple weeks have been playing in the games. I get a little more nervous than usual, but it’s been good.”

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New Mexico is no stranger to the NCAA tournament. With 10 appearances in the last 12 seasons under Fishbein, UNM had a 2-1 victory over Duke in the second round of the 2011 NCAA tournament.

Senior forward Blake Smith, who struck the game-winning goal that time, said it has helped shape this year’s squad.

“Last year was a bit of a magic run — we learned how resilient we could be,” he said. “As a program, we’re going to fight until the end. We also don’t want to put ourselves in a situation of having to fight back into the game. Having that experience, we’re going to do whatever it takes to win.”


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