ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Kit Vela can’t help herself. She starts to talk about her team, about her program, and the smile comes.
She turns serious, then before you know it, another smile occurs.
These are good times for the University of New Mexico women’s soccer team and Vela, the Lobos’ coach.
The Lobos are coming off their first Mountain West Conference title, their first trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Junior goalkeeper Kelli Cornell is the reigning MWC defensive player of the year, senior forward Jennifer Williams is the league’s returning offensive player of the year and Vela the 2010 MWC coach of the year.
“I think people are excited about our program,” Vela says. “Win, lose or draw, they’re very exciting to watch, very athletic, very fit, very soccer pure. They try to play a good game of soccer. They’re fun to watch.”
Vela expects a good crowd at this weekend’s Nike Invitational at the UNM Soccer Complex. The Lobos face Cal State Fullerton today at 7 p.m. and UC Riverside on Sunday at 1 p.m.
“Our opening game,” Vela says, “we had over 2,000 people. For a women’s soccer game, that’s seriously unheard of.”
Vela says her Lobos get excited for home matches.
“We have a lot of New Mexicans (nine) on the team who are happy to play at home in front of their friends and family,” the coach says. “And our non-New Mexicans just love it here. That’s why they’re here.”
This year’s team is 1-1-2, with the loss being a 1-0 defeat at Florida State, one of the top 10 teams in the country.
Florida State came calling based on UNM’s recent success, and Vela welcomed it.
“I think they were pleasantly surprised at themselves,” Vela says of her Lobos and their Florida State experience. “But also, we had to learn some details, we had to learn some things we wouldn’t get from just playing a difficult schedule. We needed to play a very difficult schedule.
“And so I think their expectations are higher, but I also think they say, ‘Hey, we’re right there, we just have to do some better things.'”
Vela talks about “cleaning up details” and “finishing chances.”
Soccer, she says, has intangibles other sports don’t have.
“The girls just have to play hard,” she says. “If they play hard and leave it all out on the field, you can’t be too disappointed if you win or lose or draw. You say, ‘I left it all there. That’s all I can give.’
“But when you lose, knowing you were the better team, those are the things you can continue to fix.”
She’s got her serious coach face again.
She talks about success in recruiting, about the quality of UNM’s facilities.
Then she’s asked about this year’s team.
“They can be as good as they want to be,” she says.
And the smile is back.
Optimism Flows Going Into Tourney
— This article appeared on page D5 of the Albuquerque Journal