By Dave Wagner: Freedom New Mexico
PORTALES — So far this season, the Eastern New Mexico University women’s soccer team hadn’t given an indication of beating a top-10 opponent.
Maybe facing rival West Texas A&M was all the Zias needed.
Freshman forward Brittany Bustos found the net from close range late in the first half, and ENMU (5-4) made the goal stand up to stun the sixth-ranked Lady Buffs 1-0 on Saturday in the Lone Star Conference opener for both teams at the ENMU pitch.
Second-year coach Ray Nause said the Zias had perhaps their best week of practice in preparing for WT (6-1-1), which had outscored its opponents 20-2 coming in.
“They’re obviously a very good team; coach (Butch) Lauffer always has his team well-prepared,” Nause said. “I thought we competed well with them today. We played how you have to play to beat a team like that.”
Statistically, it might appear the Zias dominated — they had an 8-3 edge in shots on goal and a 7-3 margin in corner kicks. Still, they had to fight off several challenges in the second half, but they were equal to the task.
“It’s stressful, but you have to stay composed,” ENMU senior defender Michelle Sumner said. “I think everyone on our team did their jobs today.
“It’s indescribable how it feels to beat them. We trained so hard this week.”
The Zias’ score came when junior Kandace Padilla sent a pass to the right wing to sophomore midfielder Danielle Thurman, who worked around a WT defender and found Bustos in the box just to the left of the goal. She beat goalkeeper Kelly Skehan with her team-best fifth goal of the season from inside 10 yards with about 12 minutes left in the half.
“I thought we played a great ball out on the flank,” Nause said. “We had a nice serve across the box, and Brittany kept herself calm and put it in the back of the net.”
ENMU’s defense remained solid through most of the match. WT’s best chances came in the final 12 minutes when sophomore midfielder Morgan Kviz missed twice from just inside the box — sending the first shot over the goal and bouncing the second one off the crossbar.
“We were not very good in the first half at all,” Lauffer said. “The second half I thought we were a lot better. We created some chances, but we just didn’t execute.
“You don’t want to start conference 0-1, but maybe it’ll serve as a wakeup call. We have good players, but if you don’t match the other team’s desire and work ethic it doesn’t really matter.”
Now the key for the Zias, who host New Mexico Highlands on Monday, is to maintain a similar level of play.
“We’ve got to keep going strong and competing at the level we played today,” Sumner said. “Hopefully, we can build on it.”