Preseason accolades allow for speculation in anticipation for the upcoming season. New Mexico head coach Yvonne Sanchez said her interests lie with how her squad is going to play, not how people think her team is going to perform.
Sanchez said she knows teams are going to be gunning for the Lobos this upcoming season after the tremendous finish the team had last year.
“We talked a lot about being the hunted and not the hunter and how to respond to that, because this group has never had that,” Sanchez said in Wednesday’s press conference. “It goes back to teams we’ve had in the past. Our expectations were always high, we knew where we were going to be picked, and then it’s time to go. But the most important part is where you finish.”
The Lobos were picked to finish second in the conference, the Mountain West released on Wednesday morning. The poll consists of 11 coaches selected throughout the conference in addition to specific women’s basketball media outlets throughout the conference.
Colorado State was picked to raise the conference crown for the third straight year, collecting 12 first place votes and 237 total points. UNM finished with seven first place votes and 221 total points with Boise State right on the Lobos’ tail with six first place votes and 215 total points.
CSU finished last season 15-3 in conference, just one game above UNM’s 14-4 MW finish. However, Sanchez said the Lobos are coming in with a lot of confidence they can take down the Rams after CSU is returning just 10 players from last year’s group while the Lobos only lost two seniors in the offseason.
“I knew CSU would probably be (ranked) No. 1,” Sanchez said. “Until someone beats them, they deserve to be up there.”
Aside from team predictions, the Lobos were on the receiving end of individual awards as well. Senior forward Khadijah Shumpert garnered a preseason all-conference spot, while Jannon Otto has been appointed to the preseason freshman of the year. Like the standings, Sanchez said the awards are a nice point of reference for recognition, but the preseason accolades are mere conjecture.
“When you look at newcomer of the year or freshman of the year, you just don’t know. That stuff, you just have no idea,” Sanchez said. “Even all-conference, with Khadijah it’s very well deserved, but you just don’t know how that’s going to play out.”
Sanchez holds Otto in high regard as well, which is why the head coach recruited the freshman out of Victorville, California.
“You know Jannon is a coach’s kid,” Sanchez said. “So Jannon has a high motor, she doesn’t get handicapped with her diabetes, and she just plays hard and has fun.”
Even with the new comers receiving recognition before the season-opener, Sanchez said the season is going to be reliant on the resilience of the senior leaders of the group. She said without them, the program and the ability to obtain high profiled recruits wouldn’t have been possible.
“All the success, hopefully coming our way, has been because of Bryce (Owens), Khadijah (Shumpert) and Alexa (Chavez),” Sanchez said. “They took a chance on coming here when things were not very good at all and they stayed with it when things weren’t good at all.”
Sanchez said it is far too often that player bail, but said she commends the group for sticking by her side through the hardships, allowing them to reap the benefits of the good anticipated to come.
“You give credit to players like that because players bail,” Sanchez said. “Let’s face it, the transfer rates or phenomenal, and players will bail in a heartbeat and these guys didn’t.”
UNM will showcase its talented group on Saturday for the first time this season for the annual Cherry vs. Silver scrimmage. Sanchez said this is where she will find out who works well together, and who doesn’t.
The head coach also said she is not afraid to play anybody, and that is because of the hard work and support she has received from her players and staff. Sanchez said building a team like this has been no easy task, filled with a lot of risks.
“You take your chances. I wouldn’t change anything and I wouldn’t do anything any different. We’ve done it the right way.
Liam Cary-Eaves is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter@Liam_CE.