Coming off a magical spring season that saw New Mexico soccer have the best record in the Mountain West, win the conference tournament to earn an NCAA tournament berth and then get the program’s first tourney win, what more can the Lobos do?
“We’re very proud of what we’ve done, but I don’t think anybody here is content to rest on that,” said coach Heather Dyche.
New Mexico (1-1) opens its home schedule Sunday at 1 p.m. against Oregon State (3-0), whom the Lobos have never beaten.
“I think it was huge,” Dyche said of the tournament run that saw the Lobos beat Navy in overtime penalty kicks, then have nationally ranked TCU down 1-0 at halftime before it all came crashing down.
“That whole experience was something that all of us were incredibly grateful we were able to do,” Dyche said. “Now we know how good it feels and we’re striving to do it every year.”
It was the type of experience that the players will always remember, said midfielder Jadyn Edwards.
“It was great experience, honestly, to be able to play in the same area as the top teams in the nation,” said Edwards, who is one of the team’s leading returning scorers with three goals and three assists.
“It was really cool. Something to take from that is to not take anything for granted. I think being there, we were really grounded and it was a lot of fun just being able to go on and keep playing. Being there once just makes me want to be there again, so we’re hoping to make another run.”
New Mexico handily was named the pre-season conference favorite and returns nine of its 11 starters.
If there’s an issue the Lobos face, it’s replacing leading goal scorers Alesia Garcia and Gwen Maly, who combined for 18 of New Mexico’s 31 goals and seven of its 25 assists.
Dyche, however, sees that not as a problem but as an opportunity.
“We’ve always been a team that has to score as a team,” she said. “We’ve never really depended on any one person. When we score, it’s very much through team play. Not just breakaways. We find ways to score as a unit.”
Edwards is joined by fellow midfielder Madi Hirschman with three goals and three assists, while defender Jaelyn Hendren had two goals and an assist. Karlee Maes and Paris Dalton each chipped in three assists during the 10-2-1 spring season.
True freshman Zaria Katesigwa, a speedy Albuquerque High alum, also is showing promise of being a dangerous goal scorer.
“Teams evolve, grow and they change,” Dyche said. “We lost our two leading goal scorers, so we’re going to have find goals from other players, but I think we can be better. We have some special players coming back, and a lot of the players that did a good job last season can do even more.”
Defensively, New Mexico is rock solid with all back-line players returning, including goalkeeper Emily Johnson for a sixth season.
“I think there are lot of expectations,” she said. “We would love to go back-to-back champions. This program has never done that before. Last season we had a great season and we were so excited to play because we didn’t know if we were going to get to. So I think just being grateful that we can have a whole season and a normal season is kind of what is fueling us behind all the games.”
Soccer: Oregon State at New Mexico, 1 p.m.