Women’s soccer looks forward to strong season behind returning starters
While the New Mexico women’s soccer team features a brand new coaching staff, the Lobos have plenty of experience returning for the upcoming campaign.
The team will bring back 10 of its 11 starters from a roster that finished third in the Mountain West Conference. Three of those players — redshirt senior goalie Cassie Ulrich, senior midfielder Dylann O’Connor and redshirt sophomore defender Emily Chavez — earned all-conference recognition a year ago.
UNM also returns Lindsey Guice, a senior midfielder who earned All-MW Tournament honors.
At the season-opening press conference last Tuesday, first-year head coach Heather Dyche also discussed her team’s strength in senior leadership. Eight players on the 34-woman roster are seniors. In all, the seniors amassed more than 250 matches played thus far at UNM, combining for 21 goals and 18 assists.
Her job as coach, Dyche said, will be to raise that bar.
“But we’ve also given a lot of that power to them,” she said. “They’re adults, so we listen to their feedback and try to adjust what we’re doing to make this program a place where everybody enjoys being.”
The Lobos maintain their entire scoring production. All 25 goals scored in 2014 came from a player back for this season, including leading scorer Claire Lynch, a sophomore midfielder who had four goals and three game-winners.
O’Connor, Chavez, Guice, and junior Ruth Bruciaga also contributed to the Lobos’ balanced goal scoring with three apiece. Eleven different Lobos scored at least one goal last year.
With the amount of talent on the team, a Mountain West Tournament title may be possible, O’Connor said. The Lobos grabbed a No. 3 seed for last year’s conference tournament with a 7-2-2 MW record (10-6-2 overall), and the team lost in the tournament’s semifinals.
“That’ll be our ultimate goal, and I think this team has potential to make it farther than any team in our program ever has,” O’Connor said. “I think that’s something we can all watch out for, because we’re going to make it pretty far this year.”
The Lobos also bring back a solid goalkeeper in Ulrich. She made 36 saves in 17 games, finished with a 1.15 goal-against average, had four shutouts versus UNLV, Nevada, Boise State and Colorado State. Backup keeper Laura DeMers, a redshirt sophomore, had 13 saves in her four games played.
Get content from The Daily Lobo delivered to your inbox
Ulrich echoed O’Connor’s confidence about a possible deep postseason run this year. She attributed that to the team’s preparations and ability to adapt quickly to the new coaching staff.
“It’s because we’ve put the work in and we’ve listened and paid attention and adapted to the new coaching staff,” she said. “We’ve learned from all these experiences over the last year and a half. It’s really put us in a good position as far as having the right amount of confidence going into all these games.”
The Lobos will be tested early. After Monday’s exhibition game against Fort Lewis, UNM squares off with the defending national champion, No. 1 Florida State, for the 2015 Lobo Invitational on Friday. The nonconference schedule includes other big-name schools like Texas Tech, Colorado, Minnesota and Michigan State.
The slate won’t be easy, Dyche said, especially the season-opening classic and the road trips to Minneapolis and East Lancing, Michigan. But based on what she’s seen so far, she said she’s excited for the season to begin.
“The spring is always a little bit tricky to read, but we’re playing and I think they’ve bought in to what we’ve been asking them to do,” she said. “I think they’re enjoying it, and I think any time you’ve bought in to what you’re doing, good things tend to happen. I think we have all the talent to be a good team.”
J.R. Oppenheim is the managing editor for the Daily Lobo. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JROppenheim.