Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

College Cup football has a new Mexican flavor

Jeff Rowland, right, is a former assistant coach for New Mexico Lobo and Notre Dame. (Courtesy Photo Notre Dame)Michael Graczyk, right, works with a Notre Dame goalkeeper. He comes from Albuquerque and helps Notre Dame to the semifinals of the College Cup. (Courtesy Photo Notre Dame)Brian Wiese, a native of Albuquerque, coached Georgetown in the College Cup. (Photo by Tony Quinn / Icon Sportswire via AP Images)Former New Mexico assistant coach Jamie Clark leads Washington to the men’s College Cup, his return to the last four since joining the Lobos in 2005. (Courtesy Scott Eklund / Red Box Pictures)

Michael Graczyk and Jeff Rowland have been friends since visiting La Cueva together about 20 years ago.

They were among the frontrunners of the New Mexico men’s soccer team, who made it to the NCAA title game in 2005, maybe just one penalty missed to win a national championship.

And now they’re part of a roster of locals making a name for themselves in the College Cup that kicks off in Cary, North Carolina on Friday.

“We were best friends in high school,” Graczyk said. “We pretty much lived together in high school. We lived together in the UNM. He was the best man at my wedding. I was the best man at his wedding. “

The two pals and ex-Lobos are assistant coaches at Notre Dame who will face Clemson on Friday, just like the UNM team years ago. “We even live in the same hotel,” said Rowland.

In the other semifinals, Washington, led by former New Mexico assistant coach Jamie Clark, meets Georgetown, led by Brian Wiese from Albuquerque, brother of Albuquerque Academy’s girls’ soccer coach Andrew Wiese.

“It’s pretty awesome, isn’t it?” said Wiese from North Carolina. “We have native New Mexicans, we have replacement New Mexicans like Jamie. It’s pretty cool because (New Mexico isn’t) a huge state. “

The rarely used players Jayson Baca from Washington and Aaron Hill from Notre Dame – former teammates of the Albuquerque Academy – are also on the roster. Clark said if the Huskies make it to the finals on Sunday, Baca has a great chance of adding some depth to teammates.

Graczyk and Rowland played under Clark at UNM, while Rowland was an assistant to Clark throughout his career before joining the Fighting Irish. Graczyk was an assistant with the Lobos when the program was suspended for financial reasons in 2018 and then moved on to staff at New Mexico United before moving to Notre Dame.

“It goes back to treating players like family,” said Clark, “and really caring. Jeff has been with me for 17 of the last 18 years. In one way or another, he’s really a family. “

It also shows how important football is for the state, they agreed.

“I think it shows that there is a lot of talent in New Mexico,” Rowland said. “New Mexico has always had great players. … It’s a good region for football. But it is unused. “

But with so many connections to this year’s College Cup, coupled with the success of both United and the Lobos women’s team, the state may be starting to stand up.

“I just think football is a very passionate state,” said Graczyk. “It is a community that produces many good football players and hungers for them. A huge hunger for games there. “

And that has been true for some time, he said.

“You can see that in New Mexico, Chile, UNM, and high school,” Graczyk said. “You can see how well the (UNM) women’s program is doing. It’s always been a very talented football community. People love it and people love it. The people are very engrossed and deeply rooted and there are a lot of very talented people who come from there. “

Clark credits former UNM men’s coach Jeremy Fishbein for creating an atmosphere that encourages growth, respect, and pride in the community.

“That was a team full of winners,” said Clark of the ’05 group. “And it was mostly local players. He instilled something in me about having local guys. … We are all still trying to live up to the standards that he set. “

FRIDAY

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