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Lobos to tangle with No. 1 UNC

When the champs called, the Lobos answered.

The New Mexico women’s soccer team faces defending national champion and current No. 1 North Carolina today on the fabled grounds of Chapel Hill.

“If you want to try to be the best, you have to play the best,” UNM coach Kit Vela said. “And, they offered, so we took them up on the offer.”

The game is part of the North Carolina Classic. It includes a game against No. 7 Duke on Sunday.

North Carolina is the most storied of women’s soccer programs, having won 21 of a possible 31 NCAA titles. Former Tar Heels men’s basketball coach Dean Smith once said: “This is a women’s soccer school. We’re just trying to keep up with them.”

Three current Tar Heels were on Team USA’s under 20 World Cup championship team. That includes senior midfielder Crystal Dunn, the reigning Hermann Trophy winner.

“Every player on the field has national or international experience,” Vela says of the Tar Heels. “They play at the highest level day in and day out. Their experiences go beyond just the regular players in college soccer.”

The Lobos are not entirely foreign to playing on the national stage. In 2012, they visited Florida, a Final Four team last year, losing 3-2. In 2011, they played at UCLA in the NCAA Tournament (a 1-0 loss). In 2010, they lost 3-0 to eventual national champion Notre Dame in the NCAAs.

“It’s not that our older players haven’t played a team somewhere around North Carolina and Duke,” Vela said. “It’s just that we have 11 freshmen who have never seen anything like this. It’s a great experience just going to Chapel Hill.”

This will be the first time UNM has faced a No. 1 team.

“We just have to understand, it’s a win-win for us,” Vela said. “Every experience we take away from this weekend is going to help us down the road.”

North Carolina has already whipped a couple of top-10 teams – Santa Clara 2-0 and VCU 4-0. UNM (1-1-0) has a loss to Texas Tech and a win over New Mexico State.

“It will probably be an experience of a lifetime,” Vela said.