By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
PORTALES — Even though he’s inheriting a team from previous coach Carlos Elizondo, Eastern New Mexico University’s Harold Munoz isn’t exactly coming into the season blind.
The Greyhounds open their season on Friday, beginning a five-match homestand against St. Edward’s. Munoz, a former ENMU men’s graduate assistant under Elizondo, knows his team has its work cut out competing against Southwest Soccer Conference powers West Texas A&M and Midwestern State.
Munoz spoke with Elizondo over the summer to get a feel for the team.
“Generally speaking, the players have a lot better technique than I expected,” he said. “Now it’s a matter of getting the team to play together.”
While Munoz, a native of Brazil, said the Hounds will have to take things a step at a time, sophomore defender Dreaux Plair of Alamogordo believes they could challenge the top teams.
“I think we’re a new team, but I think we’re a lot faster (than last year),” he said. “We’re playing a different style; we’re more of a counterattacking team.”
Munoz said the Hounds should get help from Emerson Rodrigues, a sophomore forward from Brazil who transferred to ENMU from Oklahoma Baptist, and on defense from junior Aram Simsar, a transfer from Phoenix College.
Others who could contribute, he said, are junior defender Hugo Gonzalez, junior midfielders Mychael Contreras and Odilon Garcia, and sophomore forward Jerry Menares, a redshirt last year.
One of the big questions is in goal, where the Hounds have to replace four-year starter Leif Craddock. Munoz said the leading contenders are senior Grant Shanahan, who played behind Craddock in 2004, and sophomore Ty Horak.
Plair said the Hounds, who went strong on defense a year ago to try to keep teams close, are planning to play two forwards this season instead of one and try to attack the opponent more.
“Hopefully, the guys coming in can help us out a lot,” he said. “I think we have a lot more skill this year. We’ve got some good technical players.”
His familiarity with the SSC keeps Munoz from going too far out on a limb. He knows the Hounds will have their hands full with the WTs and the Midwesterns of the world.
“A goal would be to be a contender for the conference title down the road,” Munoz said. “For this year, we’re good enough to finish in the middle.”
5 — St. Edward’s, 5 p.m.; 7 — Colorado Christian, 10 a.m.; 16 — UT-Permian Basin, 4:30 p.m.; 19 — Missouri Southern, 4:30 p.m.-x; 21 — Northeastern State, noon-x; 26 — vs. CSU-Pueblo at Grand Junction, Colo., 4 p.m.; 28 — at Mesa State, 1:30 p.m.
3 — St. Mary’s, noon; 5 — Texas A&M-International, 2:30 p.m.; 8 — West Texas A&M, 3:30 p.m.-x; 17 — at Incarnate Word, 6 p.m.; 19 — at Midwestern State, noon-x; 24 — at Northeastern State, TBA-x; 26 — at Missouri Southern, noon-x; 31 — at Texas A&M-International, 6 p.m.
2 — at St. Mary’s, TBA; 5 — at West Texas A&M, 2 p.m.-x; 7 — Midwestern State, 2:30 p.m.-x.
All times Mountain. x-Denotes Southwest Soccer Conference games.