The University of New Mexico women's soccer team attacked early and often in front of a seemingly ever-growing crowd as it played the first leg of a UNM double-header against the Pacific Tigers on Friday night.
New Mexico created a lot of great opportunities in the opening minutes. UNM forward Leilani Baker shook her defender, dribbling the ball and dropping off a pass in the box, but the Lobos were unable to convert. Several minutes later another scoring chance sailed wide right of the post.
Baker said the Lobos are an attacking team and knew she wanted to set the bar for play with a lot of intensity to start the match.
"I thought that if we just go hard and we pick up the pace right away, then it sets the game tone," she said. "You know that if you can get there once, you can get there again and again."
And the Lobos did just that, dominating possession and actively creating opportunities with an aggressive attack. They eventually broke through after successfully converting a corner kick in the 39th minute. Jill Olguin sent the ball into the box, where junior midfielder Jessie Hix found a way to head the ball past Pacific goalkeeper Regan Heslop to break the scoreless tie.
Less than five minutes later, Gwen Maly launched in another header to make it 2-0 in favor of UNM set up by a soaring flip throw from senior Jessica Nelson.
Baker said Nelson's trademark high-arcing throw-ins are a big advantage and the team often sets up and treats them the same as if they were corner kicks.
The Lobos appeared to tack on another goal just before halftime, but it was waved off after they were whistled for being offside.
New Mexico did eventually take a 3-0 lead after freshman forward Alesia Garcia struck the ball from long distance, curling the ball from right to left over the keeper and placing it over her outstretched hands and settling in the upper left hand corner of the net.
UNM head coach Heather Dyche said Garcia is a special offensive player and thinks she has a chance to be an all-time scorer once she finds the rhythm of the game.
"That strike was unbelievable, the head coach said. "But she does that all the time in training, so I'm hopeful that its something we keep seeing a little bit more of."
But Pacific struck back almost immediately and in similar fashion. Less than two minutes after Garcia's goal, the Tigers finally got on the board and ruined freshman keeper Malia Vanisi's clean sheet when Kendall Bietsch lofted a shot over her head and into the goal.
With 17:32 remaining in the match, the Lobos did not sit on the lead though. After Pacific was able to stave off a couple of promising looks, Baker used some more fancy footwork to get free and fire another goal past the keeper with 4:51 remaining.
It was the fourth UNM goal of the match, notched by four different Lobos.
"We can attack in a lot of different ways this year, which is actually really exciting," Dyche said. "Leiani (Baker's) speed and work rate — it's fun to watch."
The Tigers added a late goal after they were awarded a free kick following a handball and Bietsch collected her second goal of the match — but it was too little, too late.
New Mexico worked the final ticks off the clock to snag a 4-2 victory as more fans continued to fill the stands at the UNM Soccer Complex as the start time for the men's soccer game approached.
Several members of other UNM sports such as basketball, baseball and football were on hand to see both matches — something several players, including Hix, noticed.
"We talked about how all the athletes really want to support each other this year and go to each's others sporting events," Hix said. "Baseball was so loud — it was a lot of fun to have them out here."
Dyche said it was pretty special to see the support and the women planned to be in the stands following their postgame treatment to cheer on the men's squad.
The UNM men's soccer team followed suit in the second act of the double-header, downing No. 22 Seattle University by the same 4-2 score to pick up a win in its season opener.
Neither team will get much recovery time as the men's team is set to host Washington on Monday, while the women play even earlier with a match looming on Sunday.
Dyche said she is not a fan of the Friday/Sunday game scheduling because it doesn't give a lot of time for rest and recuperation, but thought everyone did a good job managing minutes to help mitigate that concern.
UNM women's soccer will host Idaho State on Sunday, Aug. 26 at 5:30 p.m.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball and baseball and contributes content for various other sports as well. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @Robert_Maler.