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Lobo Women Picked 6th in MWC Hoops

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Sanchez’s Club Picked 6th in MWC

The bar is set rather low for the University of New Mexico women’s basketball team this season.

Coming off a season of hardships, the Lobos have been picked to finish sixth in the nine-team Mountain West Conference according to the league’s annual preseason poll. The poll was released Monday.

Defending champion San Diego State was a runaway winner in the voting, done by league coaches and selected media members. The Aztecs received 22 of 24 first-place votes, with newcomer Fresno State getting the other two.

UNM’s sixth-place standing was its lowest in more than a decade, but Lobo coach Yvonne Sanchez didn’t seem bothered.

“I think I might have voted us sixth,” Sanchez said. “You look at how everyone finished last year and most of the poll’s based on that. It’s really just something for people to talk about.”

Lobo players agreed — to an extent.

“When you think about what we had last year, I’m not shocked,” senior Jourdan Erskine said of her team’s poll position. “But this is a totally different team and a new year. We’ll take it as motivation.”

One Lobo did receive some league-wide respect Monday. Senior guard Caroline Durbin was named to the five-member Preseason All-Mountain West team. Durbin was a first-team All-MWC selection last season, when she averaged 15.1 points per game.

“Well-deserved,” Sanchez said of Durbin’s preseason honor. “I really think all five all-conference spots are well-deserved. Those were the five players I voted for.”

Durbin was joined on the preseason team by San Diego State’s Chelsea Hopkins and Courtney Clements, Boise State’s Lauren Lenhardt and Fresno State’s Ki-Ki Moore. Clements was the MWC Player of the Year last season, while Moore was the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year in Fresno’s final campaign in that league.

As far as the preseason rankings go, Sanchez said they are little more than a guessing game. UNM was picked to finish fourth last preseason — before starters Sara Halasz, Whitney Johnson and Deeva Vaughn suffered season-ending injuries — and ended up in seventh place.

Those three players are back this season, and the Lobos have added significant talent and depth through both transfers and recruiting.

With that in mind, Sanchez and her players are confident they can far exceed preseason expectations.

“We’re not going to hide or shy away from it,” Sanchez said. “We want to win the conference. It doesn’t matter where we’re picked, that’s our goal.”

The then-short-handed Lobos did finish 2011-12 with some momentum. With a cast of 10 available players that included three walk-ons, UNM advanced to the MWC tournament championship game before falling to San Diego State.

Erskine smiled when asked about the Lobos’ chances for exceeding expectations once again.

“Another Cinderella story,” she said, “only this time we’re going to finish it.”
— This article appeared on page D2 of the Albuquerque Journal

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