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Lobo men’s soccer players rally around each other as season nears

Recent events notwithstanding, the University of New Mexico men’s soccer team plans to attack this season – which opens Friday at home against No. 22 Seattle – the same way it does every other season: stepping on the pitch looking to come away with a victory.

“I don’t think it’s a motivational tool,” Lobos coach Jeremy Fishbein said of the recent UNM Board of Regents decision to uphold the school’s administrative recommendation to eliminate the program after this season. “Our guys are about this season. These are experienced, talented players. They want the team to win. They want to win for the school. They want to win for the city. They want to win for the state. And they also have individual goals. They’re a pretty focused group.”

The Lobos program, which has twice reached the sports College Cup for the top four teams in the country and once played in the championship game, was axed along with men’s and women’s skiing and beach volleyball in the wake of budgetary and Title IX issues.

But holding a grudge or being resentful will not help the situation, Fishbein said.

“That serves no benefit to anybody to have that approach because there is no ‘what’s the final thing,’ ” he said. “It’s not like we’re going to die at the end of the season. Guys are going to be playing. I’m going to be coaching. Our coaches are going to be coaching. And we’ll move on. Do we want it to be here at the University of New Mexico? Of course.”

Senior midfielder Simon Spangenberg said this is a tough way to undertake a season, but the Lobos will persevere.

“I think that was kind of our biggest challenge, to get past these last couple of weeks, the month, and be able to move forward and focus on our tactics, the game, our season,” he said. “All the young guys are very excited to see what the atmosphere is like because I think we have a very special atmosphere here at UNM. That’s the only focus right now. There are no more distractions.”

If anything, the situation has brought the team closer together, Spangenberg said.

“Our biggest strength is our unity,” he said. “I’m playing with friends.”

Junior goalkeeper Ford Parker, who is a Sandia graduate, said the situation has been trying but has not changed the way the team is approaching the season.

“I think everybody knows how good we are,” he said. “I don’t think we have to prove that to anyone. Growing up, being from Albuquerque, we have a culture here that everyone wants to be Lobo. I didn’t know if it was possible, but I was fortunate to be a part of the team. … Everyone knows how good we are, and we’re going to show everyone how good we are on Friday.”

Fishbein credits the team’s veterans with being able to hold the team together and look forward to the season despite the tumultuous summer.

“We have great leadership,” he said. “We have three tremendous seniors. The upperclassmen have driven this group. They have set the standards. They’ve been amazing mentors to our young guys and role models in terms of commitment to excellence in the classroom, in the community and standards of professionalism on the playing field. That set the tone, and it’s a very focused group at this point.”

Of course, there had to be some fallout from the decision and since May the team lost four players who had been counted on to see significant minutes this season.

“But we have guys that can fill their shoes,” he said. “Different players. Of course there was going to be some effects.”

Recruiting, however, probably won’t be an issue if there is a last-minute stay of execution.

“Recruiting is, that’s a hard one to answer,” Fishbein said. “There are guys that want to play here at the University of New Mexico. If there’s a team here, the recruits will want to play here. This is an incredible place to play.”