ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico women's soccer player Elizabeth Lambert is back. She's being kept out of view, but she's back.
After serving a two-game suspension for her role in a widely publicized hair-pulling fracas during a game last fall against BYU, Lambert has been reinstated and is eligible to play as a senior this season.
"She's doing great. She's got an unbelievable team behind her," coach Kit Vela said Tuesday.
Lambert's actions created an Internet sensation — the video was viewed by millions of people worldwide.
The most striking image was Lambert grabbing BYU's Kassidy Shumway by her pigtail and jerking her to the ground, but the game was physical on both sides. Lambert took an elbow to the ribs from a BYU player during a dead ball, and responded with an elbow to the back.
Lambert was expected to attend a news conference Tuesday with Vela and New Mexico athletics director Paul Krebs but the person everyone wanted to see was a no-show. The team also changed its regular routine by closing Tuesday's practice.
Krebs and Vela told reporters Lambert wants the focus to be on the team, not on her. A publicist said Lambert might do interviews later in the season.
"Hopefully, everybody understands that," Krebs said. "The attention, the number of hits, the number of times that video has been played, I think she's just trying to move on, and I think we have an obligation to help her move on."
Lambert, a defender from Los Angeles, can return to action when the Lobos play Friday at Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Sunday at Marquette.
Vela chose not to address the BYU game, saying: "Truly, we've moved on from it. I'd rather not go back and rehash it because we have moved on."
Krebs said Lambert has fulfilled the Mountain West's two-game suspension, missing season-opening wins over Montana and Nebraska last weekend. She also met several internal requirements, including keeping up her grades, doing community service and staying away from the team until fall workouts.
"She put herself in a difficult place. She made a bad decision. She has acknowledged that. But she's arisen from that situation," Krebs said.
Vela said she treats her players like family and that it was difficult for the team to see Lambert at the center of an international spectacle.
"The Internet and the media are great resources. The world wouldn't be where we are without it," Vela said. "But I think when something goes that viral when it was an honest mistake — and I say mistake, she was in the heat of competition — it's unfortunate that it can become that negative."
Video of the fracas also ignited debates about sexism in coverage of women's sports. Some editors and bloggers used phrases like "catfight," prompting leaders of women's organizations to complain that some fans apparently can't accept women playing rough in sports.
Lambert addressed that issue in a New York Times interview after the episode, the only public comments she has made.
"I definitely feel because I am a female, it did bring about a lot more attention than if a male were to do it," Lambert said. "It's more expected for men to go out there and be rough. The female, we're still looked at as, 'Oh, we kick the ball around and score a goal.' "
Asked to weigh in on the social issue, Vela wanted no part of it.
"Women in sport have come a long way," she said. "That was one of the things that happened from the situation. I've got my own personal opinions but I'm really not going to comment about that. I just think female athletes have come a long way. Things are going to happen, unfortunately."