By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
PORTALES — Leif Craddock is tired of losing.
One of six players remaining from Eastern New Mexico University men’s first soccer squad in 2004, Craddock realizes it’s now or never for his group.
“We definitely have to get the monkey off our back,” said the senior goalie, who earned All-Southwest Soccer Conference honors last season. “We definitely have the guys to do it; now we just have to go out and do it.”
The Greyhounds were 4-11-3 last season, including 1-5-2 in the five-team SSC. ENMU made the SSC tournament for the first time, losing to eventual champion Midwestern State 5-1 in the semifinals.
The Hounds were picked for fourth in the SSC this season, the same place they finished in 2006.
But they insist they can do better.
“We have a better squad than last year,” fourth-year coach Carlos Elizondo said. “The overall quality of the team has improved. The relationships I have developed (in recruiting) are paying off.”
ENMU opens the season this weekend in Denver, facing Colorado Christian on Saturday and host Regis on Sunday. The home opener is a week from Sunday against CSU-Colorado Springs.
“We have a core of guys, and that will be really good, plus we have some new guys (who should help),” said Craddock, who is from
Amarillo and has a younger brother playing in goal at rival West Texas A&M. “It’s definitely (been) hard losing games, especially not having had a winning season.”
The other fourth-year players are forward-midfielder Keith Vargas, midfielders Ryan Atkinson and Andrew Perez, and defenders Donnell Jackson and Adam Diehl.
“That’s just huge for us,” Elizondo said. “It really helps out with the team chemistry and the discipline.”
The SSC has abandoned its conference tournament this year. Since it doesn’t have an automatic berth to the NCAA Division II tournament, the hope is that the champion will have a better shot at an at-large berth.
It makes it tough for the Hounds, who would likely have to win the conference and do well outside the tournament to make the national meet.
“What we have to do is just win,” Craddock said. “That’s what it comes down to.”
Elizondo, whose squad numbers 32, said the freshman class is strong and added that there is plenty of competition for positions.
“That has brought us to another level,” he said. “Now it’s just a matter of doing it on the field.
“I think we’ll be very competitive this year. I think we’ll be successful.”