New Mexico’s final road trip that will break nearly a month on the road has arrived, and head coach Heather Dyche could not be more pleased.
“This next weekend we’re going to get through. We’re going to fight our way through it,” she said. “Then we’re home for two weeks, which sounds normal for everyone else, but for us that’s like heaven.”
Dyche said she has not had much concern for her players’ ability to stay on top of their school work, despite not attending a single Thursday class. The head coach said the team will be leaving a little bit later on Thursday this week, so that some of the students will be able to get to their morning classes.
UNM will be traveling to Northern Arizona University to partake in the Mountain Classic, where the squad will take on Grand Canyon University on Friday afternoon, followed by a contest against NAU on Sunday. Both games will take place in Flagstaff, Arizona.
In the spring season, New Mexico was able to muster up a 0-0 tie against Northern Arizona, but Dyche said women’s soccer has been all over the map this year with upsets coming across the nation in the early going.
NAU and GCU already faced off early in the season, when GCU dominated the Lumberjacks 5-0 on Friday. Dyche said she is anticipating that both of the contests this weekend will be close.
The Lumberjacks have taken an interest in the Mountain West, scheduling four opponents, including New Mexico, into their schedule.
“NAU is a great team and they’ve played other teams in the Mountain West that I think we’re really similar to and have (had) really strong games,” Dyche said. “I’m anticipating that.”
Northern Arizona fell 3-2 to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas at the UNLV Invitational, and will face off against Air Force and Colorado College on the road following the match with UNM on Sunday.
Being on the road for so long can prove to be a headache for any team, but Dyche said her squad is treasuring the weeks away from Albuquerque as a way to mature as a unit.
“We’ve adopted the mentality that we’re not going to make excuses,” she said. “We’re going to learn every game and we’re going to get better every game. I think we’ve done that.”
Dyche has made changes to her approach this season. Last year, when the Lobos went 10-8-2 (3-3-1 MW) and lost in the semifinals of the Mountain West Tournament, Dyche said she could see that fatigue had set in.
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The head coach said she attributed some of the exhaustion to overplaying key players, something she is using caution to avoid in the 2016 campaign.
“I view this year a whole lot more as a marathon, rather than a sprint,” Dyche said. “I want to use these non-conference games to get better, but also to get experience for a lot of players, and to save a lot of our best players’ legs.”
Though competition remains high in-conference, the Lobos would likely not receive a ticket to the NCAA tournament because UNM’s RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) would be far lower than many of the teams out of the Mountain West.
“The reality of the Mountain West conference on the women’s side is that you’re not going to go to the NCAA tournament unless you win it,” Dyche said. “So we have to be our best when the Mountain West conference gets here.”
In the final stretch of the tiresome road trip, UNM will still be playing to win, and its sights will remain on a Mountain West title.
Liam Cary-Eaves is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers volleyball, women’s basketball and baseball. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Liam_CE.