For women’s soccer, another chance at a Mountain West title is a long time coming

San+Diego+State+women%27s+soccer+senior+midfielder+Chloe+Frisch+shoots+the+ball+during+the+Aztecs%27+3-2+over+Nevada+on+March+5%2C+2021+at+the+SDSU+Sports+Deck.

Kyle Betz

San Diego State women’s soccer senior midfielder Chloe Frisch shoots the ball during the Aztecs’ 3-2 over Nevada on March 5, 2021 at the SDSU Sports Deck.

by Devin Whatley, Arts & Culture Editor

In August 2020, San Diego State women’s soccer players were undergoing phases of voluntary workouts, preparing for their upcoming fall season and another chance at a Mountain West Conference title.

Then, the Mountain West announced that the season would be postponed to the spring 2021 semester due to COVID-19 concerns. 

Now, eight months later, the Aztecs (8-2) are back in the big game. 

SDSU will play the University of New Mexico Lobos (9-1) at the UNM Soccer Complex in Alberquerque on April 17 for the Mountain West Conference Final. The winner between the two teams will be declared the conference regular-season champion, and receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Women’s Soccer Championships. 

For many of the players, this moment is one they have been anticipating for a long time.

“We’ve put in so much work in the past year and it’s cool to see that hard work come into fruition,” senior midfielder Chloe Frisch said. “I know it means a lot to the girls, and me personally since it is my senior year. I know this (game) might be the end of soccer for me and so to go out (winning the title) would be an incredible way to leave the program.” 

Frisch was announced by the conference as the Offensive Player of the Year by league coaches. With a team-leading six goals and a conference lead in shots per game and on goal, she credits her success to many factors throughout her career.

“I worked hard to get here,” Frisch said. “(I credit my success) to my time here in the program and just developing as a player, and then obviously your teammates because they are giving you balls, putting you in positions to score goals, and get assists.”

Her teammates, like junior forward Anna Toohey, also notice the effort every day in practice. She said that even though Frisch may not be the loudest on the field, she makes the biggest difference in games when it matters most.

“Chloe is someone that you watch play, and your eyes are just captivated watching her,” she said. “She’s an extremely technical, fast, quick player. When she’s on the field, she’s very supportive of her teammates. 

“She might not be the loudest on the team, but the direction she gives is very good. On and off the field, what she says has merit. She talks to give you help as a player.”

Alongside Frisch, Toohey earned the Mountain West Newcomer of The Year award. The transfer from North Carolina State has scored five goals and five assists in the regular season to provide SDSU with 15 points. Her assist totals also lead the Mountain West.

“It’s been great,” Toohey said of her comfort level with the program. “I really wanted to come in and score as many goals as I could, and it’s really exciting to see after the first couple of games that I was able to start contributing and doing my part.”

Seeing similarities

Frisch and other seniors on the team are playing a familiar opponent in the Lobos. The last time SDSU won a Mountain West title (2017), the five seniors were all in the first year with the program.

Another similarity between both programs? How about five players from each team earning spots on the All-MW first team.

Head coach Mike Friesen said UNM presents the toughest challenge for the Aztecs all season. One of the reasons for that is because the Lobos have not played any common opponents in the Mountain Division. 

However, he feels the opponents SDSU has played so far (UNLV, Fresno State, Boise State and San José State) will give them a better understanding of the Lobos’ playing style.

“I think one thing that’s helped us is that our (division) has been pretty competitive,” he said. “We’ve been in a lot of really close games and have had to compete, and we’re going to have to do that again (against UNM).”

Even with their record at 9-1, the Lobos have showcased themselves as one of the Mountain West’s dominant teams. Seven out of their nine victories this year have been shutouts. The scoring differential is even more striking – with UNM outscoring teams 25-3 on the season – and like the Aztecs, they also are 5-0 at home. 

“For us, we’re gonna have to be aggressive and assertive in the final third to create some pressure and create chances,” Friesen said. 

One of the main players leading the Lobos is senior forward Gwen Maly, who leads the conference in scoring with nine goals on the season. She has been the ring leader for UNM’s offense, and the reason why is because of her ability to strike for goals when the moment comes.

“She’s just a really good finisher,” Friesen said. “She’s put herself in some really dangerous spots (on offense) and finishes well. I think there are lots of other players that they (Lobos) have who create those chances for her. 

“She’s not necessarily someone that does it individually, from midfield taking balls all the way in. It’s more of she’s very good at putting herself in those dangerous spots and having teammates find her and then she’s a fantastic finisher.”

For the Aztecs, Friesen said the main way they plan to contain Maly and the red hot Lobos’ offense is by recognition. This is done by first knowing where she is on the field, and then denying those goal-scoring chances on the defensive end.

Another factor affecting the game can be found on the bleachers. 

According to UNM Athletics, recent changes in guidelines to New Mexico’s health order will allow for a limited number of spectators, including students, to attend the game. 

Even with strong home support expected in attendance, many of the SDSU players are feeling confident in their ability to be successful on the road.

“With my team, it doesn’t matter whether we play home or away,” Frisch said. “(Friesen says) we are ‘road warriors’ but we’re gonna hopefully win on Saturday and bring (the Mountain West title) home.”

Friesen said despite the similarities in playing style between both teams, the winner of this game will come down to who executes on all sides of the field.

“We’re gonna have to be very good about making sure that we’re cleaning things up (with our execution) – heading balls, clearing balls and covering each other (on defense),” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s going to be who takes care of the little details and who finishes their chances the best.”

SDSU and UNM face off at the UNM Soccer Complex on April 17 in Albuquerque, NM. The match starts at 6:30 p.m. on Mountain West Network.

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