Soccer: No. 6 Rutgers tops Lobos 1-0 in hard-fought contest - Albuquerque Journal

Soccer: No. 6 Rutgers tops Lobos 1-0 in hard-fought contest

UNM’s Zaria Katesigwa, bottom, battles Rutgers’ Allison Lynch for possession during Thursday night’s season opener for the Lobos at the UNM Soccer Complex. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Although Thursday was the season opener for New Mexico soccer, the intensity on the field was akin to a postseason match as the Lobos battled No. 6 Rutgers.

UNM, desperate to procure a signature win to start the season, played with a relentless energy, particularly in the second half as it tried to equalize after falling behind the Scarlet Knights early.

Both squads delivered a physical brand of soccer that sent players repeatedly sprawling across the pitch as each side tried to gain a positional advantage in front of 1,022 raucous fans at UNM Soccer & Track Complex.

In the end, however, Allison Lowrey’s score in the 22nd minute that she slotted past New Mexico goalkeeper Alli Davis proved to be enough to thwart the Lobos, 1-0.

Rutgers, coming off a College Cup appearance, looked every bit like a championship contender again, displaying speed, toughness, a deft touch when needed and power.

And the Lobos showed that they very much belonged on the same field, creating several dangerous scoring chances.

In the first half, Jadyn Edwards blasted a shot from a tough angle that Rutgers goalkeeper Meagan McClellan turned away with a kick save.

And early in the second half, newcomer Sakura Yoshida, an Oklahoma senior transfer, provided two near misses, nearly drawing a penalty kick after she was shoved to the ground inside the penalty area early in the second half. She later took a shot from 35 yards out that appeared headed for the far corner before McClellan was just able to get there.

“I’ve known Saki for a long time,” Lobos coach Heather Dyche said of Sakura. “She’s a special player and a great kid. It was really fun to see her wearing New Mexico tonight. She’s fun to watch. She’s a little lightning bolt.”

Davis also turned in a strong debut for New Mexico.

UNM’s Sakura Yoshida, left, tries to regain possession after being tripped by Rutgers’ Giana Romano in the box during Thursday night’s season-opening match. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

“I’m not surprised,” Dyche said. “I knew she was going to shine.”

On the Knights goal, Davis was left in an impossible position after a perfect pass threaded the New Mexico defense.

Other than that UNM was sterling.

“I don’t like to judge success based on result,” Lobos coach Heather Dyche said. “I like to judge it based on how you play and how the players play and how we compete. And I thought we were just outstanding at that (Thursday). I never thought we looked scared, which is kind of a cool testament to our returners, too, because they’ve been there. They’re battle-tested.”

Rutgers coach Mike O’Neill said his team needed just this type of challenge.

“They’re very well coached,” he said of the Lobos. “They’re a good team. They know the way they want to play. The thing that’s most important is we came here for an NCAA-type of game on the road, and they’re an NCAA team, no doubt about it.”

While O’Neill said he was pleased to escape with a win, getting the chance to gauge his team against a tough side was equally as important.

“That’s the idea, you want to be able to be good on both sides of the ball, but you have to be battle-tested and this game for both of us was to be battle-tested. Both sides found out a little more about their teams tonight. That’s important and that’s why we came here. It was a good game.”

NOTES: Midfielder Edwards was one of 60 named to the Mac Hermann Watch List for the top collegiate players. “This is a kid in a Mountain West school that’s chose to come here and has killed it for five years,” Dyche said. “And she’s getting national recognition. It’s what we want our team to be. It’s what we tell our recruits. And they do it all with unbelievable character.”

(Box score: No. 6 Rutgers 1, New Mexico 0)

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