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It’s a rare year when Albuquerque Academy and St. Pius X aren’t both hanging around near the state boys soccer title game.
That would make 2009 an exceptionally rare year, as neither team made the championship round and only Academy got as far as the semifinals.
But for the Los Alamos Hilltoppers to get to the finals again for the second straight season, it will most likely need to go through both squads to get there.
Los Alamos, the No. 5 seed in the Class AAAA state tournament, will take on the fourth-seeded Academy Chargers in Thursday’s quarterfinal round. The winner of that game, scheduled for 9 a.m., will very likely get to face St. Pius X, the tournament’s top seed.
St. Pius’ Sartans arguably have been the most successful boys soccer program in state history. The Sartans have won seven of the last eight AAAA state titles outright and shared half the title with Academy in 2000.
This season, they are again the favorites to take the title. They will open their state tournament Thursday morning against No. 8 Chaparral.
While the Sartans are looming, the Hilltoppers must still get by the Chargers, which is rarely an easy task in the postseason.
Los Alamos lost a heartbreaker Sept. 17 to Academy.
Leading 2-0 with just a little more than two minutes remaining in regulation, Los Alamos allowed two late goals to Academy, which scored again in overtime to win 3-2 at Sullivan Field.
While the loss could well have cost the Hilltoppers one of the coveted top four seeds in the playoffs, they did take some solace in knowing they had the Chargers on the ropes throughout the contest.
“I think we need to come out and play our game,” Los Alamos midfielder David Wyman said. “We played a good game, we got two good goals, but we thought we had the game in the bag. We’ve got to play a full game, not one half and quit.”
While Los Alamos has struggled with delivering the knockout blow this season, it had no such problem last weekend in the tournament’s opening round.
Against Los Lunas Saturday, Los Alamos came back from an early 1-0 deficit to score five unanswered goals and take an impressive victory in the tournament’s opening round. Los Alamos’ leading scorer, Andy Thoma, notched a goal and three assists in the contest.
While the Hilltoppers (14-8) needed to play the extra game after being seeded fifth in the tournament, that might have actually worked to the Hilltoppers’ advantage, as a fourth seed or above would mean they would’ve not played a game since Oct. 19.
For Academy (14-6), it finished as the District 5AAAA runner-up behind St. Pius. Academy had one of the toughest schedules of any team in Class AAAA this year and came through it well, winning 14 of 18 contests to teams other than the Sartans.
The Chargers were led offensively in 2010 by Derek Thompson, who finished the season with 14 goals and nine assists. Ian Rosado had nine goals and five assists. Interestingly, only Thompson and Rosado collected as many as 20 points during the regular season.
Hilltopper head coach Evan Gartz said controlling the field and controlling possession of the ball, two things his team has excelled at this season, will be the focus heading into Thursday’s game.
“If we play that, we’ll be OK,” he said. “We have to take the ball and go to their weak spots. And we have to continue fighting to the last whistle. That’s a point we’ll drive home.”