College Cup soccer has a New Mexican flavor - Albuquerque Journal

College Cup soccer has a New Mexican flavor

Jeff Rowland, right, is a former New Mexico Lobo and Notre Dame assistant coach. (Notre Dame courtesy photo)
Michael Graczyk, right, is shown working with a Notre Dame goalkeeper. He is an Albuquerque native helping Notre Dame into the College Cup semifinals. (Notre Dame courtesy photo)
Brian Wiese, Albuquerque native, has coached Georgetown into the College Cup. (Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via AP Images)
Former New Mexico assistant coach Jamie Clark leads Washington to the men’s soccer College Cup, his return to the final four since he was with the Lobos in 2005. (Courtesy Scott Eklund/Red Box Pictures)

Michael Graczyk and Jeff Rowland have been friends since attending La Cueva together some 20 years ago.

They were among the leaders on the New Mexico men’s soccer team to reach the NCAA title game in 2005, coming perhaps within a missed penalty kick of winning a national championship.

And now they are among a contingent of locals making a mark on the College Cup that kicks off Friday in Cary, North Carolina.

“We were best friends in high school,” Graczyk said. “We pretty much lived at each other’s houses in high school. We roomed together at UNM. He was the best man at my wedding. I was the best man at his wedding.”

The two buddies and ex-Lobos are assistant coaches with Notre Dame, which on Friday will face Clemson, just like that UNM team did years ago. “We’re even staying in the same hotel,” Rowland said.

In the other semifinal, Washington, led by former New Mexico assistant coach Jamie Clark, faces Georgetown, led by Albuquerque native Brian Wiese, brother of Albuquerque Academy girls soccer coach Andrew Wiese.

“It’s pretty great, right?” Wiese said from North Carolina. “We’ve got native New Mexicans, we’ve got surrogate New Mexicans like Jamie. It’s pretty cool, because (New Mexico is) not a hugely populated state.”

Seldom-used players Jayson Baca of Washington and Aaron Hill of Notre Dame – former Albuquerque Academy teammates – also are on the rosters. Clark said if the Huskies reach Sunday’s final, Baca has a significant chance to provide some depth to spell teammates.

Graczyk and Rowland played under Clark at UNM, while Rowland was an assistant for Clark his entire career before moving on to the Fighting Irish. Graczyk was an assistant with the Lobos when the program was shuttered for financial reasons in 2018 and then joined the staff of fledgling New Mexico United before heading to Notre Dame.

“It goes back to treating players like they’re family,” Clark said, “and really caring. Jeff has been with me 17 of the last 18 years. In one way or another, he is truly family.”

It also shows how important soccer is to the state, they agreed.

“I think it shows there is a lot of talent in New Mexico,” Rowland said. “There’s always been great players in New Mexico. … It’s a good region for soccer. But it’s untapped.”

Yet with so many connections to this year’s College Cup, coupled with the success of both United and the Lobos women’s team, the state might start getting its due.

“I just think it’s a very passionate state about soccer,” Graczyk said. “It’s a community that breeds a lot of good soccer players and there’s a hunger for it. A massive hunger for the game there.”

And that has been true for some time, he said.

“You can see that going all the way to the New Mexico Chiles, to UNM, to high school,” Graczyk said. “You look at how well the (UNM) women’s program is doing. It’s always been a very talented soccer community. People love it and people are excited about it. People are very engrossed and ingrained and there is a lot of very talented people that come from there.”

Clark credits former UNM men’s coach Jeremy Fishbein with creating an atmosphere that encouraged growth, respect and pride in community.

“That was a team full of winners,” Clark said of the ’05 group. “And they were mostly local players. He instilled something in me, having local guys. … We’re all still trying to live up to the standards he set.”

FRIDAY

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