One year removed from a hazing scandal that rocked the New Mexico women’s soccer program, two returning players said Tuesday the team has put the events behind it and is ready to move forward to its 2015 campaign.
Both senior goalkeeper Cassie Ulrich and midfielder Dylann O’Connor said they and the rest of the team take responsibility for their actions when upperclassmen hazed freshmen last August. UNM’s investigation uncovered underage drinking and the spraying of a “soap and water” mixture on the freshman.
The incident resulted in the season opener being cancelled, a one-week suspension for then-head coach Kit Vela, and a one-game suspension for all players. Every player was involved in the hazing, Vice President for Athletics Paul Krebs said at the time.
“We accepted it. We accepted what we did wrong and it happened. And then that was it. We accepted it,” Ulrich said. “We decided and learned from our mistakes, and we knew what we did wasn't right. We just use it as motivation to go forward and … to just try to excel in everything, in school, in soccer, in our social lives.”
During Tuesday’s season-opening press conference, Ulrich and O’Connor acknowledged the past is in the past but said the team has learned from its mistakes.
The days of having freshman carry the gear and clean up after practice are over, O’Connor said; all players do so. Freshmen still have to prove themselves, she said, but that happens with their on-the-field efforts.
Vela and the the coaching staff were not retained after the season’s end, and UNM tabbed Heather Dyche to serve as head coach. The Lobos also hired Karley Nelson and Missy Strasburg as assistant coaches along with Brad Keller as director of operations.
Since taking over the program, Dyche said she’s had no hazing-related issues with the players.
“Quite the opposite,” she said. “I think they are very hard-working, great students, great young women and incredible role models. For me, I've had no issues with it.”
From what she’s seen, Dyche said she doesn’t foresee another incident arising. One of the first things the staff did when it came in, she said, was to meet with the players to discuss the events. None denied what happened and all took responsibility, Dyche said.
“Every single player has been very accountable. ‘We were a part of this. We screwed up. It won't happen again,’” she said. “When you hear that, there's no reason for rehashing it. They're ready. They're ready to move forward, so I actually felt like that very easy transition and they're invested to this being a successful season.”
The focus now is on the game, O’Connor said. The Lobos will play an exhibition game against Fort Lewis at 7p.m. Monday.
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The regular season begins with the 2015 Lobo Invitational Aug. 21-23. UNM will play top-ranked and defending national champion Florida State on that Friday, then Texas Tech on the ensuing Sunday. USC will also be in attendance to take on the Red Raiders and Seminoles.
“We're all here for soccer, so I feel like that's all we want to do,” she said. “Of course what happened last year happened, and now we're all moving forward and we're getting to do what we love and we're getting to play soccer. It doesn't get any better than that.”
In fact, Ulrich said the team doesn’t even bring up the incident anymore.
“It's in the past now. We don't really talk about it, so we're just so focused,” she said. “It hasn't been hard to get away from, sure. It got drawn out in the media for a while there, but we've just done what we've tried to do as far as training and school. We've just really but our heads into it, bought in, and gone after it. That's really all it is. It's in the past.”
J.R. Oppenheim is the managing editor for the Daily Lobo. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JROppenheim.