As the fall sports season is about to get underway at New Mexico Highlands University, all three of the Olympic sports are looking to turn things around this season.
For the men, the season already looks kind of cloudy as one of the expected top runners, A.J. Malik Sweeney, is having visa problems.
“On the men’s side, to be honest, we’re searching for a fifth guy,” said coach Bob DeVries. “Right now, I’m a little nervous on the guys side.”
And another top performer, Kenyan Collins Kurui, will likely redshirt after breaking his femur last summer. He’s still slowly rounding into shape.
That leaves a largely untested and inexperienced roster, DeVries said.
Perhaps the best hope for breakout seasons are local runners Michael Montaño out of Pecos, who is coming off a redshirt season after a knee injury, and freshman John Hall out of Pojoaque Valley, who shows promise, but needs seasoning, the coach said.
Big things are also expected from Australian brothers Joel and Andrew Amor, DeVries said, but again, it’s a question of whether they can adapt to performing in the rugged Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
On the women’s side, “I have a little bit higher expectations,” he said.
Top runner Austrian Theresa Mosher is leading a strong squad that has the capability of sneaking into the top half of the RMAC, DeVries said. That’s particularly true if Natalie Marrujo of Mora is back to her capabilities from two years ago after taking off last season.
Following those two, there is a solid contingent of New Mexico runners.
Local runners Anabella Miller and Nieves Pacheco, both out of Robertson High, are looking strong thus far, DeVries said.
Lucia Harrison of Sandia, Akira Martinez-Crook of Cibola and Xochitl Ramos-Gonzales are all showing significant promise, as well, he said.
Last year, a few points here or there were just enough to cost the Cowgirls a couple of RMAC matches and an opportunity to reach the conference tournament.
But with a corps of six returning starters who have been through the rigors of travel and the high-level of play expected in the conference, expectations are for an improved result this season, said assistant coach Karli Salazar.
Actually, virtually the entire roster from a year ago returned, meaning the school had room for just three recruits.
“It’s going to be interesting so see how that all plays out for us,” she said.
After taking a season off, senior libero Bryanna Lopez of Rio Rancho returns to the backline and that strengthens the entire team, Salazar said.
And dual setters Celina Naranjo of Española Valley and Soleil Gandara will run the offense, looking to feed hitters Sierra Foley of Los Alamos, Keegan Lopez of Eldorado and Lauren Montoya of Cibola.
And the middle block behind Gillian Muniz, Maggie Gould, Stacy Johnson of Volcano Vista, and Bri Bradford of Aztec should be a team strength, Salazar said.
A new era begins with Bianca Contreras getting her first head coaching gig after several seasons as a Cowgirls assistant. The Highlands alum immediately set out to reshape the team, bringing in 12 freshmen to complement the returning squad that brings back six starters and 13 players overall.
As a former goalkeeper, she is happy to have an experienced group returning in the back, led by senior center back Carly Griego of Volcano Vista, senior outside back Cheyenne Delgado and sophomore outside back Bryana Garcia.
Attacking players Nitza Rodriguez and Janis Martinez both have the firepower to help NMHU get on the board, while outside midfielder Ariana Castillo helps control the middle.
“They’re looking good so far,” Contreras said. “The girls are clicking well. They’re working together, which is what we need.”
The coach said she plans to take a more aggressive approach to the program, with a full-bore offensive style.
“We’re going to be more of attack-based team,” Contreras said. “We recruited players that can take the ball and shoot. Formation-wise, we changed it up. We have the girls that can run and they came in fit, so, with the new formation, it will definitely benefit us and showcase what we really can do.”
Editor’s note: Reporter Glen Rosales’ daughter, Elena Rosales, is a freshman on the NMHU soccer team.