[Photo: New Mexico has already proven they're stronger than last year. Derek Lucero photo]
The Pacific Mountain West conference saw two amazingly close game this weekends, and the traditional victors did not come out on top during their league openers. New Mexico defeated Colorado State 36-31, and Air Force topped Colorado 21-19.
Colorado State hit the road for their game against New Mexico, which fielded a much improved side from a year previous. The hosts wasted little time to flex their muscle and put in a try off the kickoff and followed with another about five minutes later. Down 10-0, CSU battled back with two tries of their own and took a 12-10 lead. From there, the teams traded tries.
“We played well in the middle 60 minutes,” CSU coach Jenna Middleton said, “but we weren’t able to start or finish strongly. New Mexico did a better job capitalizing on our mistakes, than we did on theirs.”
CSU made some decision-making errors in terms of territory. Too often the team shied away from running the ball and keeping possession, and the subsequent kicks weren’t placed into space. CSU’s lineouts degraded in the second half, so the clearing kicks that did find touch simply created another attacking opportunity for New Mexico.
When those errant kicks were scooped up, a more experienced UNM backline countered well. CSU did a decent job containing star fullback Jade McLaughlin, but there were plenty of supporting backs to stress the defense. Too many CSU players were needed to bring down ballcarriers and an excess of defenders in the ruck provided some nice overloads for New Mexico.
Colorado’s backline is almost completely new save their fullback and wing. Several forwards have been added to the line to give it some size, including former prop Leah Wylie, who really set a good tone of defense and acclimated well.
CSU is without USA U20 Eagle Wendy Sherman, but flanker Bianca Christensen did well to lead the larger pack.
“We were stronger in the set pieces,” Middleton explained. “They had some inexperienced pack players, but they were aggressive. Our forwards were smarter in the set piece but not as aggressive in rucks; there were a lot of turnovers there. We’ve also been working hard setting our post players, and we did a good job but need to work on coming up on defense harder.”
The loss was a tough one for CSU, but Middleton is confident that the inexperienced squad will start to gel with more practice time and extremely optimistic about their potential.
“They learned a huge amount this weekend,” Middleton said. “They don’t have much time playing with each other, so the trust isn’t there yet. And it’s difficult to work on decision-making in game scenarios when you only have 18 players at practice. But that’s what we’ll do over the next two weeks as we prepare for Air Force.”
No one was available for comment on the Air Force v Colorado game, but CU coach Jim Stebbins did say there was nothing very impressive from either side.
The Pacific Mountain West conference is basically Women’s Cougar Rugby and everyone else – just like the North Division is Stanford and everyone else. But with two tight games to kick off the season, it should be another great contest for #2 in PMW.