On Sunday evening, after returning from a 3-0 exhibition game loss to the University of Arizona in Tucson, the University of New Mexico women’s soccer team held an alcohol-fueled initiation event and allegedly had the freshmen strip naked while others sprayed them with a variety of liquids.
Local media initially reported that an attorney for at least one player said that the player had urine thrown on her. The Associated Press reported on Thursday that “liquid soap or window cleaner was sprayed on the freshmen players.”
Two players were hospitalized due to excessive alcohol intake but were treated and released early Monday morning. Greg Archuleta, the university’s Assistant Communications Director, explained to The Equalizer: “The entire team took it upon themselves to have a party the night before school started and two girls had to go to the hospital for alcohol-related issues. When that came to light, the Athletic Director [Paul Krebs] on Tuesday decided that it was in the best interest of the program to cancel this weekend’s [away] game against Texas Tech.”
On Tuesday, freshmen twins Danielle and Devin Scelsi of Trabuco Canyon, Calif. — the latter of whom was one of the players hospitalized — left the team and the University.
The Lobos have not practiced yet this week due to a third-party investigation into the incident, though one day was devoted to an anti-hazing course that will include a few more sessions, one of which will be held during practice time over the next week or two. When asked if the coaching staff had taken responsibility for the incident, Archuleta said that Krebs said that responsibility stops with him, adding that “The Athletic department failed the program and didn’t educate them enough on anti-hazing and let them know how wrong it was.” The university will institute anti-hazing programs for all of their teams with both genders.
UNM head coach Kit Vela was not available for comment with Equalizer Soccer.
Vela, who played at Brown University and has been the head coach at UNM for 13 years–compiling a 112-99-43 record with two NCAA Postseason–directs a program that has faced unfavorable publicity before. One women’s soccer coach who wished to remain anonymous has long been concerned with the culture of the program and said that she would “never recommend any of her elite players to go there.”
Earlier this summer, a UNM player was sent home by a summer league team because she was a “disruptive force in the locker room.” A 2009 Mountain West Conference playoff game versus BYU received international attention when Lobo defender Elizabeth Lambert yanked BYU opponent Kassidy Shumway by her ponytail, leaving Shumway writhing on the ground.
The video on YouTube went viral with over 3 million views over the next few days. The Mountain West Conference is known for tough play—the beautiful game tends to bypass the conference—but this game was a battle royale throughout, though a weak referee lost control of the game early.
Ordinarily for flagrant play, Lambert would have received a red card or, in a few grievous situations, a one or two game suspension, but clearly due to the amount of attention that the incident received, UNM suspended Lambert through the spring season. The following season, New Mexico went 12-3-5, won their conference regular season title and qualified for the NCAA tournament, where they lost to eventual champion Notre Dame, 3-0.
During her senior season, Lambert played a total of 98 minutes—the equivalent of a little over one full game, when in 2009 she played in all 21 games and led her teammates in minutes played. Despite assurances from the University of New Mexico representatives that they had “put the Elizabeth Lambert situation behind them,” one still had the feeling that she was made a scapegoat by the University, on top of the harsh and dehumanizing criticism she endured from the general public.
Vela admitted then that she had not seen the incident with Shumway or she would have pulled Lambert from the game immediately. Since the coaching staff should always monitor and manage the team’s style of play, one has to ask why Vela and her staff were not suspended as well at the time.
The University of New Mexico has been upfront with the media about this hazing incident, but there is the lingering feeling that Vela and her staff have either cultivated a culture that is detrimental to the growth of the women’s game or are simply not aware of what their players are doing.
Krebs said that the University has accepted responsibility. Will the same be said for the coaching staff or, like missing Lambert’s fouls five years ago, will they skate away by using the “not aware” card again? This unfortunate incident, which hurts Texas Tech as well as they lose a home game, is a chance for UNM to clean the slate on a program that has developed a reputation as out-of-control. It will be interesting to see what other sanctions for the team are implemented by the university.
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