By Mike Linn
They practice on a field about 1/2 the size of their game day turf, working on mental quickness and short passes, turning split-second breakdowns in defense into shot-on-goal opportunities.
Meet the Eastern New Mexico University first-year women’s soccer team, a hodgepodge of junior college transfers, local club stars and freshmen recruits from west Texas, New Mexico, Nevada and Arizona.
With a recent 4-0 victory over Wayland Baptist University on Saturday in Plainview, Texas, players and coaches say they’re hungry for division play, where they hope to make the conference tournament by season’s end.
“It was nice for the girls to be able to enjoy that first win,” Zia soccer coach Travis McCorkle said Wednesday.
“We do have high expectations: We’re playing in the strongest conference in the country for Division II and we want to get results. The girls are here to compete, and every player who is working their hardest in training is working toward achieving something this season and not something that’s down the road.”
McCorkle came from San Angelo, Texas, where he worked as an assistant coach at Angelo State University, also in the Lone Star Conference.
“We’re extremely fortunate to have hired such a quality candidate,” Mike Maguire, ENMU Director of Athletics, said. “He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience with in the sport.”
Much of the goal-scoring in the first game and preseason came compliments of freshman Anna Funck, who knocked in two goals against Wayland Baptist and had a hat trick in a preseason scrimmage game.
“She plays smart, doesn’t panic — she knows how to keep it cool on the field,” assistant coach Tracy Simmons said of the Amarillo High School and first-ever Zia soccer recruit.
But even more important than a consummate goal scorer is a team that forms together on game day like biscuits in a hot oven, rising like dough to overwhelm their opponents.
“I think our expectations are to grow more as a team,” co-captain defender Pam Campbell said. “I think we have a lot of potential, and the best thing we can do is work together.”
Campbell, who transferred from Cochise Junior College in Douglas, Ariz., said a newly-formed team has its advantages.
“I think our strength is our willingness to try and learn new things, because we have a new coach and we have a whole new group of girls here together,” Campbell said. “Without open minds we wouldn’t be getting anywhere.”
The Zias play their next game against the University of Northern Colorado at 3 p.m. on Sunday in Albuquerque.