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Men's Soccer: Lobos to face Wash. in Elite Eight battle

The New Mexico men’s soccer team makes one of its smoother road trips of the season this weekend, head coach Jeremy Fishbein said, when the Lobos play at Washington in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals Saturday.

Well, smoother for logistics anyway. Fishbein said Wednesday morning that the team will have a nonstop flight from Albuquerque to Seattle, as opposed to layovers and additional bus rides to their final destination.

As for the level of competition, that could be a different matter.

The No. 2 seed Huskies (16-1-4) hold the highest remaining seed in the field following Connecticut’s Sweet 16 upset over top seed UCLA. Washington also has 4-1-2 mark against who qualified for NCAA tournament, including ties against UCLA and Connecticut along with wins over California and Stanford.

UNM (13-5-2) has played some of its best soccer on the road this season, carrying a 5-2-1 record in games away from Albuquerque.

That record includes a 1-0 victory over then-No. 11 Georgetown and a 3-0 win over then-No. 24 Old Dominion, also NCAA qualifiers.

“We’ve been really good on the road this year, and this is one of the easier trips,” said Fishbein, whose team holds the No. 7 seed.

“We’ve got a nonstop to Seattle, good timing of the flight. If things go according to plan and the plane leaves when it’s supposed to leave, I think it’s a pretty smooth deal.”

In Washington, the Lobos will face a team featuring several dynamic, organized players who score often off set pieces, Fishbein said. They feature a unique flip throw-in, the coach said, where a player execute a somersault to add force on the ball on in-bound plays, allows for long passes and can create havoc.

The Huskies boast two players with seven goals each in Christian Roldan and Darwin Jones. Michael Harris figures heavily into the offense as well; his 10 assists rank seventh-most nationally.

The game will be a reunion for Fishbein, Washington head coach Jamie Clark and Huskies assistant coach Jeff Rowland. Clark served as an assistant under Fishbein from 2002-05. Rowland played for the Lobos during that same time. Both were part of UNM’s national runner-up win in 2005.

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“It’s going to be a grudge match. That’s where I cut my teeth in coaching,” Clark said in a release on the team’s website. “And my mentor — other than my father — in coaching is their coach. So it shapes up to be a pretty fun game.”

Fishbein said those relationships won’t make an impact when the schools go head to head.

“The approach has been they’re doing their thing, we’re doing ours,” he said. “After the game we’ll still be friends and we’ll probably hang out this winter and see those guys a lot. It’s really a nonfactor, I think, in the game.”

Washington, a Pac-12 Conference member, reached its first Elite Eight following a 4-2 win over Seattle and a 1-0 victory over Stanford. UNM captured 1-0 win over George Mason and a 2-0 victory over Penn State to reach the quarterfinals.

Venter named award semifinalist

On Tuesday, UNM defender Kyle Venter was named a semifinalist the MAC Hermann Trophy, college soccer’s top award.

Venter became one of four Lobos to receive a semifinalist nod and the first since Devon Sandoval in 2012. UNM’s other semifinalists are Rowland in 2005 and Andre Boyens the following year.

Fifteen players made the cut for the semifinals, and Venter is one of two Conference USA players to make that list. The finalists will be announced Dec. 12 with the winner in January, a C-USA release said.

“I think it’s always a tough one as a defensive player to win that award, but there’s not a better player in the country than Kyle,” Fishbein said. “He’s just means a lot to this program. He’s an incredible student, a great leader, a great player.”

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