An unusually large class of fifth-year New Mexico senior soccer players, some of whom were granted an extra year of eligibility due to the coronavirus pandemic, polished off a second straight undefeated home Mountain West slate Sunday with a 2-1 victory over Air Force.
The Lobos (12-4-1, 7-2-1 MWC) clinched at least a share of the Mountain West regular-season title and secured the No. 1 seed for the MWC Tournament.
“I really don’t know what else to say about this group of seniors,” UNM coach Heather Dyche said. “They’re unreal. Undefeated at home (in conference) this year. Undefeated at home last (season). That’s a special streak. I think people are afraid to come play here because of the standard they set. I think that’s a legacy that carries on, that you can’t come to New Mexico and expect an easy game. Really, really proud for them, really proud that we could send them out with an undefeated weekend here. Emotional. They’re good kids. Hard to lose them.”
Eight redshirt seniors toed the home pitch for the final time, including local Eldorado alum Madi Hirschman, who went out with a big-time hootenanny by scoring both goals.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better senior weekend,” she said. “This is my last game on my home pitch. I couldn’t have asked for anything better to get a win.”
It didn’t hurt to score twice, as well.
“I think I have to thank my team for that one,” Hirschman said. “(Jadyn Edwards’) assist was perfect. I just kept telling myself, don’t miss.”
That score came in the 51st minute to put the Lobos up 2-0. In the final minute of the first half, Hirschman corralled a loose ball on the near wing and bombed in the shot to the far post from about 30 yards out.
“I push Madi a lot because I know how great she can be,” Dyche said. “I think sometimes she doesn’t even see that in herself. I believe she’s capable of that every game. She’s so good on the ball and so technical and such a clean finisher and she’s fast. I think you see Madi developing a lot of confidence and I’m happy to see that. That’s how you want someone to wrap up their career, the way she just did. It’s pretty good.”
Air Force (6-9-2, 3-6-1) climbed within a goal with five minutes left when Albuquerque native and St. Pius alum Tatiana Limon finished after a scrum in the goalkeeper’s area following a corner kick.
But that couldn’t dampen the Lobos’ enthusiasm, said outgoing senior ‘keeper Emily Johnson.
“It’s bittersweet,” she said. “There’s been a lot of career games played on this field and I’m just glad we could have our last two as wins. These memories on this field, the (conference) championship on this field, they’re something that we’re never going to forget and I’ll cherish those memories forever.”
Edwards, a senior who has a redshirt year remaining and plans to return to the Lobos to finish her career, said there still is unfinished business for this season.
“It’s huge for us,” she said of Thursday’s regular-season finale at San Diego State, a team the Lobos beat in the conference championship game in the spring. “We still control our own fate so that’s great. They’re going to want to beat us for sure, and we’re going to have to end up beating them to clinch, so it’s going to be a big match, but overall a fun one. I’m excited about it and I’m confident in my team that we’ll be able to put it away.”
NOTE: Following the game, fifth-year senior holding midfielder Alexa Kirton was honored with the game ball for surpassing the program record of games played with 83.
“I think I bring up Alexa every time someone doesn’t because she’s just the heart of our engine,” Dyche said. “She doesn’t stop. And she cares so much. And in addition to that, she’s an unbelievably good soccer player. Her feet are so clean. I think it’s going to be a committee of people that are going to try and fill her shoes. What’s she’s brought to this program is really irreplaceable. Alexa wants our team to win and she could really care less about anything else. She does what it takes to get that done.”