LOBO WOMEN'S SOCCER
Sunday: UNM at UTEP, exhibition, 11 a.m.
By Greg Archuleta
UNM Assistant Director of Communications
Change is never easy, but after her team’s 1-0 spring exhibition victory at Texas Tech, first-year University of New Mexico women’s soccer coach Heather Dyche is making it seem that way.
The Lobos conclude their spring exhibition season Sunday when they travel to UTEP, but Dyche says she feels as though her team already has had a highly successful spring, no matter the outcome in El Paso.
“It’s been a really positive transition,” said Dyche, the Albuquerque native who was hired in January as the program’s fourth-ever head coach. “The credit goes to the players; we’ve thrown a lot of new things at them and they’ve really responded well.
I don’t want (spring practice) to stop, but I know summer fever is in.”
That doesn’t mean the Lobos aren’t excited about how they progressed during the spring and where their new direction will take them when the 2015 season gets underway in the fall.
“There’s so much motivation on the team right now,” rising senior goalkeeper Cassie Ulrich says. “I was really proud of the way we ended last season (the team went 9-3-2 over its last 13 games in 2014), and now with the new staff coming in and implementing a new style, we’re really looking forward to seeing where it takes us next season.”
Dyche said she has implemented two basic changes from the way UNM played the game in previous years: On defense, the Lobos have changed their line of confrontation to pressure opponents farther up the field.
Offensively, the Lobos are focused more on possession, rather than dumping the ball into the opponents backfield and chasing.
“Every coach has an opinion about how they want to play the game,” Dyche said. “There’s really no right way or wrong way to do it. What we’re trying to do is build off a pretty good foundation that was already in place when we got here.”
That’s not to say that Dyche and her staff – consisting of first-year assistants Karley Nelson and Missy Strasburg – haven’t already begun to put their stamp on the program
Don’t let the label “rookie head coach” that applies to Dyche mislead you, Ulrich said.
“Heather came in and clearly defined what she expected of us as student-athletes and as far as the culture of the program,” Ulrich said. “Right away, there was no confusion about what our responsibilities are.”
Dyche, however, admitted to a feeling-out process as a first-time head coach.
“The biggest adjustment is all the little rules you have to learn,” she said, “compliance with the NCAA and the other aspects of being a head coach that aren’t related to soccer. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how willing people here have been willing to help me figure out the way things work.”
Ulrich said that the biggest change she’s perceived has been with the communication aspect of the game.
“It’s more specific,” she says. “For example, on defense we used to focus mostly on what we were going to do. Now, the staff is showing us how to recognize what the opposing team wants to do and how to incorporate that in our defense.
“For me, there’s a lot more conversation and a lot more discussion going on with the defense.”
Dyche said he didn’t look at any video of the team’s play prior to her arrival. Like most coaches in new positions, she didn’t want to come into the program with any preconceived notions.
“I thought the fairest thing was to make it a clean slate,” Dyche said. “I wanted the players to prove to us that they should play.”
As expected, the impact of the changes wasn’t immediate – or at least immediately positive. The team struggled in doubleheader losses to Arizona State and BYU in the first exhibition matches of the season on March 21.
“I told them that was my fault,” Dyche said. “We put in a lot of new concepts, and they were thinking too much.”
She said that the Lobos’ 2-1 victory over Denver on April 4 at the UNM Soccer Complex served as validation that the new concepts the team had practiced during the spring were starting to pay off.
“Both our goals in that game were a direct result of their execution of the offense,” Dyche said. “I think that game served as the catalyst for the improvement we’ve seen.”
UNM knocked off Fort Lewis 5-0 on April 12 and then knocked off Texas Tech 1-0 in Lubbock, Texas. The Red Raiders were a team that went 16-4-2 last season and advanced to the third round of the NCAA Tournament. The Red Raiders finished the regular season ranked 14th in the nation.
Talk about validation of the new coaching staff’s scheme.
“I feel like the last three games, we were starting to get a feel for it,” Dyche said. “We’re starting to get familiar with each other, and they’re starting to show their personality. They’re starting to show what they can do.”
Which makes the possibility of what they can do together in the fall that much more intriguing.