It’s not completely foreign territory, but the New Mexico men’s soccer team entered rarefied air on Sunday night.
With their 2-0 victory over Penn State at the UNM Soccer Complex, the No. 7 seed Lobos reached the Elite Eight for the second time in school history. The only other time UNM made it to this stage of the NCAA tournament, the team competed in the national championship game.
“It’s awesome,” midfielder Michael Calderon said after the game. “We know like we haven’t been there since 2005, and I feel happy to be a part of this group and to have the opportunity to make it there. Hopefully we can keep going.”
When asked how this year’s team compares to that 2005 squad, Fishbein simply said, “Every team’s different.”
“Year to year, everybody’s different,” he continued. “This is a great team. That was a great team.”
After playing their first two games at home, the Lobos will travel for the quarterfinals after No. 2 seed Washington beat unseeded Stanford 1-0 on a late goal. The Huskies, who will make their first-ever Elite Eight appearance, host UNM on Saturday for a 6 p.m. MST contest.
The three other Elite Eight games will feature No. 4 California hosting No. 5 Maryland, No. 3 Notre Dame playing No. 11 Michigan State, and No. 8 Virginia battling unseeded Connecticut.
On Sunday, UNM played about as complete a game as it has all season long. The goal against Penn State, Fishbein said, focused on limiting set pieces, not giving up the ball in transition, keeping the number of fouls down and pressing well. The Lobos accomplished that.
The Nittany Lions fired only five shots all game, including one in the first half and none on goal. The Lobos kept their fouls down to seven and attempted 15 total shots and nine on goal. Penn State goalkeeper Andrew Wolverton stopped seven of those shots. With no shots on goal, UNM goalkeeper Michael Lisch could not make a save.
“Their players were talented, motivated. They were skillful,” Penn State coach Bob Warming said. “They were everything you want a team that’s going to play in the Elite Eight, and we wish them the best of luck.”
The teams played a scoreless 45 minutes before UNM broke through 10 minutes into the second half. Midfielder Oniel Fisher recorded his first goal of the season, taking a pass from Calderon and kicking it off his left foot from the middle of the box.
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Defender Riley McGovern added a second goal 3:20 later off a set piece. Calderon took a corner kick from the near side and sent it to forward James Rogers, whose one-touch pass found McGovern. Both Calderon and Rogers received assists on the play.
The Lobos, who have struggled on set pieces this year, scored for the second time off a corner kick in 20 games.
“With the corner, the ball got bounced around a bit inside the 6, and really it was a bit of a lucky bounce,” McGovern said, who scored his fourth goal of the year. “Not really a bounce, but it just rolled straight out to me. I saw a lane and it was an easy finish.”
If anything, Fishbein said he hoped to tack on a third goal but that’s “getting picky.”
“We’re playing a better and better team each game, so it’ll be another test next week,” he said. “But we’ll enjoy this one and keep doing what we do, maybe tighten up a few little things to not give anybody any openings.”