College: Undefeated New Mexico the team to beat
Courtesy of Univ. of New Mexico Athletics
Six years ago, New Mexico advanced all the way to the final of the 2005 College Cup. Since then, they’ve failed to emulate that success in the postseason.
But this year could prove to be different. Currently the only undefeated Division 1 team (11-0-2) remaining in the country, the Lobos seem poised for a deep run. It’s a fact that hasn’t escaped head coach Jeremy Fishbein, nor the rest of his team.
“I’d probably be ignorant to say that they don’t think about it,” Fishbein told MLSsoccer.com over the phone. “But the flip side is [we’re a] very driven team and expect to be in that situation.”
Fishbein, in his 10th season in charge in Albuquerque, has quietly guided New Mexico to one of their most successful seasons since that 2005 run, when they lost in the final to Maryland. Heading into this year, however, the target was much simpler than finishing undefeated – they just wanted to put themselves in position to make the NCAA Tournament and compete for the title.
“Our goals going into this season were more based on where we would lie after 18 regular season games, and not with a specific record,” Fishbein said. “But you just want to be in a good situation.”
Success isn’t a rare sight for the Lobos, who compete in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. They’ve qualified for the NCAA Tournament in seven of the last nine seasons, though they only advanced past the first round twice.
Two key figures in this year’s run have been the team’s two seniors – midfielders Mike Green and Lance Rozeboom – whose experience has proved extremely beneficial in guiding a younger team to an outstanding run.
“We expected leadership, consistency, and they’ve both provided that,” Fishbein said. “They’ve been great at training, great leaders, and they’ve set a real tone amongst the team.”
According to Green (pictured above), this year’s success has been largely due to the way the group has come together.
“It’s a more collection of a team,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “I wouldn’t say things in the past have been bad, but right now we feel more team unity. We’re willing to stick it out and work through adversity for each other rather than for personal goals."
While the MPSF schedule might not carry the same stature or weight as other top-tier conferences, New Mexico have certainly played their share of difficult opponents, including a trip to defending champs Akron for a 1-1 draw and a visit to Cal Poly, where they tied 0-0.
However, having reached this point of the season without a loss, the Lobos have now evolved into a team that everyone wants to knock off – something they’ll hope to avoid in the remaining five games of the season.
“While we didn’t have that kind of target early on, that’s where we are now,” Fishbein said. “We’re a great win for anybody, so we’re going to see everybody’s best games and we’ve got to be good.”
With the way things have played out to this point – and even if New Mexico slip up before the end – a third straight NCAA Tournament berth looks secure. But Fishbein knows it’ll take everyone on the roster pitching in to reach the heights of 2005.
“I want to see consistency, balance, and our challenge right now is the guys coming off the bench are making us better, keeping us in games,” he said. “It’s having that hunger from our whole roster – I’ve been real proud of that. Everybody’s contributing, making the difference.”
Travis Clark covers D.C. United, College and Youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com.