Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
Pinkish-red smoke wafted across the field Friday as the New Mexico men’s soccer team underwent its introductions for its opener in this season of discontent.
As the smoke dissipated over a crowd of nearly 2,000 fans, supporters of the Lobos program expressed their dismay that this could be the last waltz for what has been one of the athletic department’s shining lights.
New Mexico opened what could be its final season with a 4-2 victory over No. 22 Seattle.
“Nope, I never thought it would actually come down to not having a team,” said Bosque chemistry teacher Casey Grange, an ex-youth and high school coach whose brother Pat Grange was a UNM former player who died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. “I always thought they would figure out a way to make it happen.”
The New Mexico Board of Regents recently upheld the recommendation of the UNM administration to eliminate the program along with men’s and women’s skiing and beach volleyball because of budgetary concerns and Title IX issues.
“I think everybody is starting to see at this point the only way Lobos soccer can survive is with a new governor and if new regents reinstate Lobos soccer, but we’ll maybe have to rebuild everything from scratch with new players, maybe new coaches as well if they decide to leave before January,” said Gabe Nosseir, a longtime youth coach who owns Albuquerque International Indoor Soccer Arena. “I still have that hope that it could be reinstated, but the way it has gone with this group of regents, you almost don’t expect anything positive and you question why they’re deciding the way they are. The big thing for me is why wouldn’t they hold off for four months?”
The regents’ decision is a slap in the face for the entire community, said Jennifer Wimberly, the mom of a youth goalkeeper and whose family usually attends five to 10 games between the UNM men’s and women’s programs.
“The potential elimination is sad for the community,” said Wimberly, who said she anticipates attending more games this season. “And bad for the program and it’s leaving these athletes up in the air, which I think is very unfortunate and it’s something they don’t need to deal with in their college careers. It’s a bad message, yes: that we don’t care about you.”
Nosseir has been a fixture at Lobos games for many years.
“I come to pretty much every game and I have since college,” he said. “It helped me develop my coaching. I started coaching right out of high school so when I was in college, I would look at this field and notice how they were moving and I would go to practice sessions and learn and learned just by watching UNM soccer. So there are affects on so many different levels, that’s saddest part of it.”
The desire is that the full stands of Friday is a regular happening.
“I’m hoping fans come out and we get a lot of support,” said Grange, who has been attending UNM games since they were played at University Stadium. “I went to that rally (on campus the evening before the regents meeting) last week and I thought there would be a ton of people there and I was little disappointed. I am going to try to attend more games and bring more people. We’re trying to get the word out. I’m trying to get all the soccer players at Bosque to come out.”
But for 90 minutes Friday night, at least, all was right in Lobo Land as they got off to a 2-0 first-half lead.
Antoine Vial started the scoring for UNM (4-2) when the Redhawks (0-1) failed on several clearance attempts, leaving him alone to put it away in the 25th minute. Six minutes later, Matt Puig finished a pass from Tom Smart on a play that Seattle’s Nathan Aune protested and was ejected. Although the Redhawks scored before half, Puig made a smart run on a long delivery from Nick Taylor and was in perfect position to finish after it was mishandled by a Seattle defender.
Cibola graduate Sergio Rivas, a senior captain for the Redhawks, played the entire game, finishing with a shot.
New Mexico took a 2-0 first-half lead behind goals from Jessie Hix and Gwen Maly, then UNM traded four goals with Pacific (0-3) over the final 18 minutes as the Lobos (1-1) held on for a 4-2 win.
Hix scored on a corner kick from Jill Olguin. Jessica Nelson assisted Maly’s goal with a throw-in.
Alesia Garcia and Lelani Baker also scored for UNM.
The Lobos will go for a sweep of their home stand as the team hosts Idaho State on Sunday at 1 p.m. at the UNM Soccer Complex.