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UNM senior forward Devon Sandoval blazes past a Virginia defender Nov. 18. The Lobos won 35 games in the past two seasons, which ties a program record for most wins in a two-year span.

UNM finds bright spot in season despite season-ending loss to UConn

Team pumped for conference shift next season

With high expectations heading into the 2012 season, the UNM men’s soccer team still managed to solidify its place as one of the premier teams in program history.

The Lobos (17-4-1 MPSF 8-2) garnered their 10th College Cup appearance before losing in the third round to Connecticut 2-1 in double overtime. UNM also tied a program record for 35 wins in a two-season span.

Junior defender Kyle Venter said the loss to UConn was a difficult pill to swallow, but it doesn’t eliminate the success of the whole season.

“It’s a tough one to take,” he said. “We felt that we outplayed them in many stretches of the game, so for the game to end the way it did, it’s a tough one to take. It was a great season looking back. The character and unity of this team helped us out.”

New Mexico kicked off to a 8-1-0 record in the beginning of the season, but hit a speed bump after a losing to Air Force twice in one week on Oct. 5 (0-1 OT) and Oct. 12. (1-2). But senior forward Devon Sandoval said the poor performance versus the Falcons triggered a new pace for the remainder of the season.

“After we lost to Air Force the second time was the toughest moment of the season,” Sandoval said. “Fishbein challenged us and called us all out to be better. It was a hard moment, but everyone responded well. After that, we became a better team.”

The Lobos won six straight MPSF matches before losing in a shootout to Air Force once more in the conference tournament championship.

Perhaps the most momentous occasion occurred when head coach Jeremy Fishbein set a UNM men’s soccer coaching standard by totaling 154 wins in his Lobo career.

Also, Sandoval was chosen as one of 15 semi-finalists to get a chance at receiving the MAC-Hermann Trophy, the most prestigious individual award in college soccer, presented by the Missouri Athletic Club. Fans can go online through Wednesday to vote for their favorite MAC-Hermann Trophy semi-finalists, and the three semi-finalists with the most votes will be named finalists.

Finalists will be announced Thursday, and the trophy award winner will be announced Jan. 11, 2013.

Although he didn’t get to accomplish all of the team’s goals this season, Sandoval said he is appreciative of the individual recognition.

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“That’s a sweet honor. I’m so happy. I couldn’t do it without my team and the coaches,” he said. “I set a goal before the season to become one of the best forwards in the country. To be acknowledged as a top player is exciting.”

New Mexico loses six seniors to graduation: Sandoval, forward Blake Smith, goalie Victor Rodriguez, midfielder Levi Rossi, defender Travis Campbell and midfielder Nik Robson.

In 2013 the Lobos will enter Conference USA, which had four NCAA tournament bids in 2012 from Tulsa, Southern Methodist, Alabama-Birmingham and Kentucky.

Venter said the new conference will provide a different environment for UNM soccer.

“The whole program is looking forward to Conference USA,” he said. “The MPSF was not a weak conference, but C-USA holds different challenges for us. We’ll be going back east to different environments — our non-conference schedule is going to be fantastic.”

Junior midfielder Michael Calderon, sophomore forward James Rogers, and freshman midfielder Ben McKendry, who collectively accumulated 53 points during the season and helped the Lobos become the No. 2 scoring offense in the nation, will return next season.

Though the squad will miss the presence of the seniors, next year’s team will work to be even better, Venter said.

“We’re going to be a strong team,” he said. “You can’t replace those guys; I wish we had carbon copies of them for next year, but that’s where our spring training comes in. The younger players have to step up. We’ll get back at it harder than ever because the UConn game left a sour taste in our mouths.”


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