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Lobos fall to defending women’s soccer champs

It was a no-lose situation for the University of New Mexico women’s soccer team.

But it wasn’t a no-score situation – something which foe Florida State has been accustomed.

The Lobos and first-year coach Heather Dyche knew their task was huge, opening the season against defending national champion and preseason top-ranked Florida State on Friday night at the UNM Soccer Complex.

But while proving to be too much for UNM, the big bullies of the ACC didn’t have an easy time in a 3-1 victory.

“Going up against the defending national champs is like, ‘Wow, they have to be good,'” said Lobo sophomore and Volcano Vista graduate Claire Lynch. “But we went in and knew we had nothing to lose. They are the defending national champs, so just go all out … I think we had a really good game. I think we stepped up to the plate today.”

A crowd of 2,589 – the Lobos’ largest in nearly two years – nearly packed the west side of the stadium for Dyche’s debut. The Albuquerque native took over a program that had a controversial season in 2014, ending with longtime coach Kit Vela’s contract not being renewed.

Dyche, an Eldorado High and Florida State graduate, has created plenty of energy and optimism in the program and the soccer community.

“It was incredible,” Dyche said of bringing her team on to the field and seeing the crowd. “We had close to 2,600 people for a women’s soccer game, that was an incredible feeling.”

The crowd was vocal and festive for the game’s first 11 minutes until the Seminoles gave it a collective gut-punch when Cheyna Williams made a beautiful move on the end line to the right of the goal and fed Natalia Kuikka, who fired a rocket past UNM goalie Cassie Ulrich.

Florida State, with eight returning starters, made it 2-0 when Berglind Thorvaldsdottir scored off an assist from Carson Pickett, and it looked like a done deal midway through the first half.

Florida State, after all, won by shutout in all six games of last year’s NCAA Tournament and its shutout streak reached 675 minutes when the game went to the half, still 2-0. The Lobos had just one shot in the first half while FSU had seven with three on goal.

Lynch, however, brought plenty of life back into the crowd just eight minutes into the second half, scoring off a rebound after teammate Lindsay Guice shot and Seminoles’ goalie Cassie Miller couldn’t control it. That ended FSU’s shutout streak at 683 minutes.

“Our game plan was to defend and pressure as much as we could,” Lynch said. “… I was just trying to follow with anything. That’s how it is in soccer, you never know if the goalie is going to give it up and luckily she did and I was able to put it away. I can’t even describe the feeling after that. It was just amazing scoring against the national champs.”

Who, by the way, are national champs for a reason.

And before the crowd and Lobos even had time to celebrate – much less grab some momentum – Florida State came right back with a vicious attack in front of the UNM net that ended with Williams popping a shot past Ulrich for a score. It came exactly 30 seconds after the Lobos’ goal.

“It’s something that we talk about, that when you score a goal and get that high, sometimes you forget that the ball’s going to be put back into play right away,” Dyche said. “So it’s a good learning opportunity.

“… If that’s the best team in the country – and they are, there’s no doubt about it, they are incredible – but I thought we were really, really disciplined in the way we defended them. We weren’t chasing everywhere and we didn’t give up a whole lot of easy opportunities, and we created some as well.

“I’m really pleased at where we are.”

The Lobos will face Texas Tech at 1 p.m. Sunday in the four-team, four-game event. The Seminoles will play USC.

PROUD PARENTS: Dyche’s parents, Robin and Carol Dyche – both UNM graduates and big fans of the program – were in attendance and ready to root.

“It adds a whole lot as a fan,” Robin said. “To get to watch your daughter coach your alma mater against the No. 1 team in the nation is something.”

Added Carol, “And against a team which happens to be her alma mater. It really is so exciting for her and for us.”

USC 1, TEXAS TECH 0: In the opening game of the Invitational, the Trojans (1-0) controlled most of the second half in a scoreless game until finally breaking through when Hailey Hite dribbled a ground-ball shot to the far post past Tech goalie Lauren Watson, who was at the opposite side of the goal, with 7:27 remaining. The shot – the Trojans’ last of just two on goal for the game – came after teammate Kayla Mills’ pass was deflected.

Texas Tech (0-1), which entered the game ranked 13th in the TopDrawerSoccer preseason poll and 15th in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll, had a shot on goal in the final minute, but had possession very few times in USC’s side of the field in the second half. The Red Raiders finished with four shots on goal.