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Los Alamos’ teams are climbing the bus, or van, this weekend.
The teams will be scattered everywhere from just down U.S. 285, as far south as Roswell and as far north as Denver.
The Hilltopper cross country squads will be in Colorado for a tough race, volleyball heads to the Zia Classic, co-hosted by Roswell and Goddard High Schools, and both the boys and girls soccer teams will be in Albuquerque.
Only the Hilltopper football team will have a short jaunt as it takes on week two opponent Santa Fe.
No one could accuse the Los Alamos Hilltopper cross country teams of easing their way into the 2008 season.
After a solid start in one of the toughest races in the state, Los Alamos is going to see some regional heavyweights at this weekend’s Liberty Bell Invitational.
The Liberty Bell race will be run Saturday in Littleton, Colo., a suburb of Denver.
Expected at the race are some Colorado heavyweights, including Wheatridge and Loveland, as well as Albuquerque Academy.
Saturday’s race is among the favorites of the Hilltopper athletes.
“It’s a really fun meet,” said Los Alamos’ Hannah Little, who finished third among Los Alamos’ runners last weekend. “It’s unique, actually. It’s a really fast course. It’s all pavement and dirt and it has very few hills.”
The van trip north and the overnight stay also makes it a popular race.
Liberty Bell is the second of the toughest three races of the regular season for the Hilltopper boys and girls. The Hilltopper girls finished fourth at their season opener, the University of New Mexico Invitational, while the boys finished in second.
It was about as good a start to the season as Los Alamos could’ve hoped for.
Individually, senior Gareth Gilna had a monster day for the Hilltoppers, finishing in second, while junior Kyle Pittman took fourth.
Gilna is one of the top returning runners in Class AAAA this season and with his showing at UNM immediately becomes a front-runner for the AAAA state individual title.
For the Hilltopper girls, junior Holly Walker was the top finisher at UNM. Almost exactly one year after Walker had her breakout race as a sophomore, taking second overall, she earned a solid seventh place finish.
Academy, Los Alamos’ main competition year-in and year-out, won the boys race last weekend and was the top-finishing AAAA school in the girls race.
One of the favorite sayings among soccer coaches is that their teams need to play “a full 80 minutes” in order to be successful.
Hilltopper head coach Evan Gartz will need to go no further back in his game film library than Tuesday’s game at St. Michael’s to prove that adage.
Los Alamos outscored the host Horsemen 4-1 in the second half. Unfortunately, it lost the first half 4-0.
Gartz said it wasn’t the first time his team has heard that it had to play a full game this season, but if the St. Mike’s game hammered that concept home, it was worth the price of an early-season loss.
There won’t be much rest for the Hilltoppers (2-2) following Tuesday’s 5-4 loss, as they head to the Albuquerque Academy Invitational, which starts today.
Los Alamos opens with the Mayfield Trojans at 4:30 p.m. today. It will play either Farmington, a team it beat 5-1 in the semifinal round of the Louie Cernicek Invitational two weeks ago, or Sandia Prep, which has been one of the state’s top A-AAA program for several years.
The Academy Invitational attracts the top teams in the Albuquerque area. Scheduled to appear this season are Rio Rancho, Las Cruces, Hope Christian and the host Chargers.
Mayfield, which was relegated to also-ran for several years, may be the next emerging power in Class AAAAA. The Trojans are currently ranked second by NMSoccer.com.
“They look like a strong team,” Gartz said. “In the rankings, they’re right up there with everybody. They could be a big challenge.”
Los Alamos has shown flashes of what it can do this season, particularly in the second half of Tuesday’s contest.
Jason Reagor scored a goal and picked up two assists Tuesday to lead the charge. Jon Thoma scored a goal and peppered St. Mike’s goalkeeper Arthur Dejamette in extra time, narrowly missing the equalizer.
Los Alamos goes into today’s game without one of its top fullbacks, Will Schoonover, who received two yellow cards Tuesday, the second on a questionable call midway through the second half.
The Hilltoppers ended up with a two-week gap between games and will be jumping back into the fray against a tough customer.
Los Alamos started off the season playing four games in five days, winning three of those, but hasn’t played since Aug. 26, a 1-0 loss on the road to Moriarty.
Today, it opens the competitive Albuquerque Academy Invitational against Las Cruces, a 2007 Class AAAAA semifinalist which took eventual champion Rio Rancho to the wire before the Rams scored in sudden-death overtime.
The Bulldawgs started the season the same way they finished 2007, with a loss to Rio Rancho, but have won three straight since then, including two 10-0 victories, one over Silver and one over Santa Teresa.
Currently, Las Cruces is rated fifth in Class AAAAA, according to the current NMSoccer.com coaches’ poll.
In the early season, the Bulldawgs (3-1) have been able to spread the ball around on offense. Their offensive stat leader so far in 2008 has been Rhonda Clark (3 goals, 4 assists), but Clark’s gotten plenty of help from Kelsey Baker (2 goals, 5 assists) and Jerrica Salido (2 goals, 5 assists).
Bulldawg goalkeeper Nikki Rosales has recorded 18 saves so far.
Los Alamos, meanwhile, was inconsistent on offense in its first three games, those coming at the Farmington Invitational, then came up empty in the loss to Moriarty.
Maneesha Chitnavis has scored three of the team’s six goals so far this season and was credited with an assist on another. Saya Shimada has a goal and an assist for the Hilltoppers.
Los Alamos will take on either Rio Rancho or Hope Christian at 4:30 p.m. Friday. The tournament championship game is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday.
Also in the tournament’s first round, the host Chargers, the team that knocked the Hilltoppers out of the 2007 Class AAAA playoffs, will take on the Farmington Scorpions and Mayfield meets Sandia Prep.
One might start to wonder when Santa Fe’s rebuilding effort, which is now well into its second decade, will be completed.
If Santa Fe’s first two games are any indication, it’s not likely to be this year.
The Demons (0-2) were waxed by the Aztec Tigers in their opener, 56-6, then lost a 21-0 lead to Rio Grande, falling in week two 27-21.
This will be the Demons’ third straight game at Ivan Head Stadium to open their season.
Friday, they will be facing a Hilltopper squad that’s coming in off an impressive opening win.
The Hilltoppers stuffed a solid St. Michael’s offense after its initial drive and got big performances from quarterback Zach Mang and end Corey Clark to thump the defending Class AAA champion 28-6 Saturday on the road.
Los Alamos’ new spread formation, which it unveiled against the Horsemen, could scarcely have worked better. Los Alamos showed that it could run effectively and pass effectively out of the formation.
Its standard, double-tight end formation was also effective in the early part of the game.
Mang went 7 of 10 throwing for 119 yards and two touchdowns in the opener. He also rushed for 74 yards and a score.
Clark, meanwhile caught both of Mang’s touchdown tosses — one on a 5-yard in route and the other a 74-yard catch-and-run on a go route. Clark ran for a 55-yard touchdown late in the third quarter, effectively icing the game.
On defense, Los Alamos gave up just 174 yards, the majority of that coming on St. Michael’s first two possessions.
The Hilltoppers held steady in the fifth spot in this week’s New Mexico High School Coaches Association poll following their opening win.
The competition at this season’s Zia Classic, like it is most seasons, isn’t for the faint of heart.
The two-day tournament which starts Friday is hosted by two of the biggest names in Class AAAA volleyball, Roswell and Goddard. Following that, the top three Class AAA teams from last season, Robertson, Portales and Ruidoso, are all scheduled to make an appearance.
This will be the second tournament appearance in as many weekends by the Hilltoppers (3-3), who are coming off a third-place finish at the Moriarty Invitational.
Los Alamos won two of three matches — as well as five of six pool play sets — at Moriarty, including a 3-1 win over Cibola in the tournament’s third-place contest last Saturday.
The Hilltopppers are feeling confident heading into Roswell.
“We’ve had good practices this week,” Los Alamos head coach Diana Stokes said. “I’m trying to make them believe they can be one of those top teams in the state. If they work hard, they can do that.”
Los Alamos saw both Roswell’s Coyotes and Goddard’s Rockets at the 2007 state tournament.
In the quarterfinal round, Los Alamos came from behind to stun the favored Rockets and move on to the semifinals. In the semis, the Hilltoppers were in excellent position to pull off another upset, but the Coyotes bounced back to win and advance to the final.
Currently, Goddard is ranked second in the New Mexico High School Coaches Association poll, while Roswell is fourth. Los Alamos is sixth in that same poll.
Roswell (5-1) will be in Los Alamos’ pool Friday morning. The two teams play each other off the bat.
Jessica Stokes, Los Alamos’ lone senior, had a big showing at Moriarty’s tournament, picking up 34 assists in a three-set contest against Estancia and 24 assists in four sets against Cibola.