Some feel New Mexico did not exactly get a fair shake when it comes to the Lobos’ opening-round opponent Saturday for the NCAA Women’s Soccer Tournament.
“I agree,” Lobos coach Heather Dyche said. “I found that a little frustrating. I think if you look at our body of work, I’m not sure what else we can do. Beat a Pac-12 team (Washington) at home, did some things that you want, in addition to winning our tournament, in addition to record.”
Lobos midfielder Alexa Kirton said it didn’t really surprise her.
“I think that we are still making a name for ourselves,” she said. “Even with our great record, I think people still underestimate us, so just putting us with a (regional) four seed shows that we need to step up to the plate and show that we can compete with such a highly ranked team.”
Fourth-seeded BYU is an unprecedented behemoth, averaging 3.44 goals a game, second best in NCAA history.
“They’re dynamic,” Dyche said. “That’s kind of all you need to know about them.”
By midweek, all 8,000 seats in Provo, Utah, were sold out for the game matching former bitter Mountain West rivals.
The Lobos (14-4-2), however, have not played BYU (13-4-1) since 2010, its last year in the conference. New Mexico is 57th in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), compared to the Cougars at 26.
BYU is led by a pair of seniors in Cameron Tucker and Mikayla Colohan, each of whom had 13 goals. Colohan, who also added 13 assists, was the No. 13 overall pick in the NWSL draft in January.
Jadyn Edwards leads New Mexico in both categories with 11 goals and nine assists. The Lobos also got 10 goals and three assists from Zaria Katesigwa and eight goals from Molly Myers.
Still, Dyche and the Lobos know exactly what it is going to take to advance to the second round, as they did in the spring.
“They’re a very, very good soccer team,” she said. “We’re going to have to go in and play our absolute best and in addition to that have a little bit of luck. But if you make the NCAA Tournament, this is what you want. You want to play the big dogs. You want to go into an environment that’s going to be a little hostile. So we’re going to enjoy it.”
Kirton is hoping the script from the spring holds now.
“We know that they’re going to come after us with all they’ve got,” she said. “They got out early in the first round with an upset so hopefully we can do it again.”
And last season’s tournament success with the program’s first NCAA win was a big step, Kirton said.
“It was super important,” she said. “We wanted to make our state proud. Getting to the NCAA Tournament in the first place is a big deal, but to win the first game and move on to play an even bigger opponent was insane.”
And it should help moving forward, Kirton said.
“We learned how to play at a national level,” she said. “We’re used to playing regionally in our own conference and now, going against teams we usually never get to go against, we have experience from doing that from last (season). This year, playing a completely new team and having to scout them, I think we’ll be prepared for it.”
The Cougars enter the game as the decided favorite. That could work in New Mexico’s favor, Edwards said.
“We’re definitely the underdog, but being seen as that, we definitely have nothing to lose going into this game,” she said. “We’re going to put it all out there. No matter what happens, we’re going to go together as a team. I think being an underdog is exciting because there is nothing to lose.”
The key, Edwards said, is concentrating on what the Lobos do best rather than worrying so much about BYU.
“We’re just going to focus on trying to get them uncomfortable,” she said. “Try to focus on what we do well. But also do what we do good to disrupt their play. We don’t want them to get in a rhythm.”
Lobos fans may see the team play a bit differently, as well, Dyche said.
“We’re going to need to defend,” she said. “We’re going to need to sit in our own half. And we’re going to have to do things right and make life difficult. And we’ll do that to our highest level.”
NOTE: Edwards and goalkeeper Emily Johnson have been named to the CoSIDA academic all-district first team.