No more Big Ten, ACC, Pac-12 and Big 12 teams. The New Mexico women’s soccer team can now turn its attention to the Mountain West.
The Lobos (2-5) open MW play this weekend with a road trip to Utah State and Boise State after completing a schedule that includes programs from the top collegiate athletic conferences.
All five UNM losses came against the so-called Power Five conferences, and three of those outings could have been Lobo victories. The losses to Texas Tech, Minnesota and Michigan State all came by 1-0 decisions, and head coach Heather Dyche’s squad actually outshot Big Ten’s Golden Gophers and Spartans two weeks ago.
“We feel pretty confident,” Dyche said Tuesday. “We've had two weeks now to get refined and we feel pretty good going into conference and we're hopeful even though we have a tough weekend.”
The Lobos had an extra week to prepare for conference because they held an intrasquad scrimmage last weekend. Over that span, Dyche said the Lobos worked on its spacing and decision making around the offensive third of the field. UNM has held its own in the midfield and defensive areas on the field but have yet to find the net on a regular basis.
UNM has six goals through its five games and only one multi-goal game, scoring four against Idaho State. Midfielder Claire Lynch has two goals, with midfielder/forward Lindsey Guice, forward Madisyn Olguin, midfielder Maddie Irwin and forward Quincy Slora netting one apiece.
“In the final third we get panicky,” Dyche said. “We play too direct and too quick. We've been working really hard on our spacing and movement and countermovement and getting those players on the same page this last week.”
Defensively, however, the Lobos have given up 11 goals with seven coming in their games against Florida State, ranked No. 1 in the nation at the time, and Colorado. Goalkeeper Cassie Ulrich has 22 saves and a 1.46 goals-against average.
But the experience of playing a brutal nonconference schedule doesn’t mean UNM will have an easy time against the Mountain West, Dyche said. Every game in conference play is winnable, she said, but every game is losable as well.
Utah State (5-3-1) is one of two teams with five wins already. One of those wins was against in-state rival Utah out of the Pac-12. Only Wyoming has a better overall record at 4-1-3.
The Aggies are potent offensively, leading the conference with 15 goals so far this season. They also have the league’s stop scorer through nonconference play in forward Jessica Brooksby. She has seven goals and an assist.
“I'm pretty confident in our back four,” Dyche said. “She's (Brooksby) a good player, but we've also played Florida State, Minnesota, Michigan State who have all-conference players in huge conferences. So it's nothing we haven't been facing and I think they'll be pretty prepared to at least put up a good fight.”
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Utah State’s goalkeeper, Jeannie Woller, also leads the conference in saves with 51.
Boise State, meanwhile, is eighth in the conference standings at 2-4-3, one spot ahead of UNM. The Broncos have taken the second most shots of any MW team at this point (130).
Dyche said there are no bad teams in the conference, but no team stands out as far and ahead of everyone else. That means the Lobos must have a quality outing every time out, she said.
“You can't have a down game,” she said. “I mean, I don't think that we can play average and beat anyone. I really feel like every game we step on the field we need to be at our best, which is not always easy to do. But in order to win, I think that is the standard.”
J.R. Oppenheim is the managing editor for the Daily Lobo. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JROppenhiem.