When it comes to their season opener, the Lobos aren’t cautiously wading into the water. They are diving in head first.
The UNM men’s soccer team will travel to South Bend, Indiana, to face the No. 13 Indiana University Hoosiers, as part of the Mike Berticelli Memorial Tournament weekend. The Lobos play Indiana on Friday and Notre Dame on Sunday.
Indiana lost its first fall exhibition match 0-2 to Loyola University Chicago.
But that loss seems to have only motivated the team, as Indiana proceeded to take down the Oakland Golden Grizzlies 4-0 during their second exhibition match. For their third and last exhibition, Indiana achieved a shutout against the No. 6 UCLA Bruins.
New Mexico went undefeated for all three of its exhibition matches, scoring a total of eight goals and not allowing a single goal.
“We kind of progressively had tougher opponents throughout the preseason,” said Lobo head coach Jeremy Fishbein. “The Washington game was an important one. We got to play a top opponent who was a physical and mature team. I thought we performed really well.”
But there’s more telling information than just preseason stats to understand just how tough an opponent awaits the Lobos. Indiana University has a streak of 29 straight appearances in the NCAA Tournament.
Last season, the Hoosiers went 13-5-3 overall, going all the way to the third round of the NCAA Tournament, where they fell 1-0 to then-No.1 Wake Forest.
The Lobos’ overall record for the 2015 fall season was 8-6-4, resulting in the second straight season the team failed to get into the tournament.
UNM has yet to fail to make the tourney in three straight seasons this century.
Fishbein said the Lobos have matured since the offseason and welcome the challenge of facing a team like Indiana for the season opener.
“It’s a great team with a long history, a lot of pride. It’s a good test for us. That’s who you want to play, you want to see where you are at,” he said. “Rankings in terms of the pure numbers, I don’t think you can read too much into that, but you can say (Indiana) is one of the top programs in the country, year in and year out.”
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The Hoosiers are a good team, but according to Fishbein the Lobos don’t fall far behind. He says UNM is becoming not only a more mature team, but also a more balanced squad that understands how to match the physicality, directness and pressure of its opponents.
If they approach it with the right mentality, Fishbein said the Lobos should have a successful weekend, and hopefully start the year with some momentum.
“You go into a game like this and I think it is naïve to say we are better. You can’t take that approach. You have to have a lot of respect for your opponent,” he said.
“We play well, we are capable, and we take our chances. We expect to win. But like I said, it would be foolish to say you are just going to show up and win a game like this.”