The UNM women’s soccer team this week turns the page from a daunting preseason schedule to Mountain West Conference play.
Lobo sophomore goalkeeper Cassie Ulrich understands the urgency.
“It’s the beginning of conference,” Ulrich said. “We’re training hard every week, but this time we’ve got to flip the switch and get it done. It’s do or die right now, and we’ve got to have that attitude going into our conference games.”
Ulrich has emerged as a team leader, but before assuming her current role, she had the pressure of following one of the best Lobos ever. Kelli Cornell holds UNM records in career games played (82), games started (82), minutes (7,702), wins (48), shutouts (41) and goals-against average (0.69).
But Ulrich says her time with Cornell and Lobos assistant Jorge Vela prepared her for the moment.
In 10 games this season, Ulrich has a 0.97 goals-against average, with three shutouts. That includes outings against ranked opponents North Carolina, Duke and Texas Tech.
“She’s been outstanding,” said Vela, a former ‘keeper for national teams in Guatemala. “I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the best ‘keepers in the country for the last 20 years, and Cassie is right up there with the best. Her work ethic, her dedication. … Her mental capacity is tremendous. She’s become a great leader.”
The 5-foot-5 Ulrich wasn’t highly recruited out of Rio Rancho High School, Vela said.
“They like size,” he said. “We just saw a battler, someone who battles, someone who is a warrior, someone who has just been taught 5, 10 percent of what she can achieve. We really felt like there was a little monster hiding in there.”
Part of Ulrich’s challenge has been playing with other first-time starters.
“She’s new, the center back in front of her is new, the midfield line is new and the center forward is new,” Vela said. “That’s usually where you need experience on the soccer field. So all those players are brand new to a starting role. It’s not just saying I’m putting you in as a new player. She has to pretty much control all of them. But she’s doing a tremendous job.
“She’s faced the best in the country. Every day, it’s better. It’s not every week. Every day she’s better.”
The Lobos (2-7-1) hope to be at their best in the MWC opener at home today against San Jose State (1-7-0) and Sunday at home against Fresno State (3-5-1).
“We’re playing two very good teams, two very mature teams,” Vela said. “They’ve played some good nonconference games. It’ll be a battle.”
Ulrich said UNM’s nonconference schedule has the Lobos ready.
“It’s been a huge learning experience,” she said. “We’ve played well throughout it all. But we have to be able to find the back of the net during our conference games.”
UNM MEN: The Lobos (4-2-1) will play UC Davis (3-4-1) in the second game of Friday’s doubleheader.
On Monday, New Mexico makes its Conference USA debut with a trip to Marshall (2-4-2). UNM played in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation for 20 years.