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Senior forward Natalie Jenks runs past Wyoming junior midfielder Liz O’Reilly on Oct. 21. UNM will face Nevada in the second round of the MWC Tournament today after receiving a first-round bye.

‘This is a do-or-die situation’

The UNM women’s soccer team begins its quest to lock up a spot in postseason play today at the Mountain West Tournament in San Diego.

After receiving a bye in the quarterfinals thanks to their 10-6-2 regular season record, the No. 2 seed Lobos will face the No. 6 seed Nevada Wolf Pack. The Wolf Pack upset No. 3 seed Boise State 1-0 during Wednesday’s quarterfinal round.

“We have to be strong and ready to go,” said senior midfielder Rachel Montoya. “They’re coming off of a win and they’re pretty happy about that. It’s the conference tournament and anything can happen.”

The regular season meeting between the Lobos and Nevada was held in Reno on Oct. 7. The Lobos won the game 1-0, with senior forward Natalie Jenks scoring the only goal less than three minutes into the match.

Montoya said the Lobos must score early and often to avoid another thriller.

“Our strategy is to score early to give us some leverage, and then score a couple more goals so we don’t have to turn it into a dogfight like it was last time,” Montoya said. “It turned into a very physical game that we want to stay away from. We want to play our own soccer.”

UNM will need to rebound from its performance on Oct. 26 against San Diego State. The Lobos lost their regular season finale 1-0 to the Aztecs in San Diego. Despite the loss, UNM head coach Kit Vela said the game was a positive experience for the team.

“We’re happy that we played on their field,” Vela said. “It was good to get a feel for what the field and the environment is all about prior to going to the conference tournament. San Diego State is on a roll. It was good for the girls to play them and see that we’re right with the team that’s ranked sixth in the country.”

If the Lobos defeat the Wolf Pack today, they will advance to the championship game. Waiting for them will be the winner of today’s second game, which pits No. 1 seed San Diego State against No. 4 seed UNLV. Either team could be a difficult matchup for UNM, as the Lobos lost to UNLV 2-0 on Oct. 14.

There is more on the line for the Lobos this weekend than the conference tournament title. Winning the title would give UNM an automatic berth to the NCAA College Cup. A loss, however, would mean that the Lobos would need an at-large bid to the national tournament. The team has reached the College Cup in each of the last two seasons.

“We know that this is a do-or-die situation for us,” senior goalie Kelli Cornell said. “We are going to have to have as much intensity and focus as we can bring.”

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UNM had two players receive All-Mountain West honors this season.

Montoya was selected to first-team all-conference, while senior defender Sinead Fleming was selected to the second-team.

“I think it shows that our team is well-rounded,” Vela said. “For coming in second place (in the regular season), it shows that there was really no one star; it was a team effort to finish in second.”


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