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BERNALILLO — Historically, the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls soccer team has done some of its finest work in the postseason.
Thursday’s game was no exception.
To open the Class AAAA tournament, the Hilltoppers picked up an impressive win over the Del Norte Knights at the State Farm Soccer Complex and are just a win away from a trip to next week’s state semifinal round.
Los Alamos scored three unanswered goals, two coming in quick succession just before halftime to knock off the sixth-seeded Del Norte Knights 4-1.
“Everything was working (Thursday),” Hilltopper forward Asli Unal said. “Our touches were on, our passes were on, our shots were on. I don’t think we’ve played this well all season.”
In a game which featured the two top point-scorers in the state, Los Alamos’ Maneesha Chitanvis had a goal in each half to help her squad secure Thursday’s win. On the other side, Del Norte’s Jamie Fletcher, who finished second with 56 points to Chitanvis’ 71, was marked and marked well all afternoon by the Hilltopper defense.
Fullback Laura Nelson, a junior, had the bulk of the responsibility marking Fletcher and could scarcely have done better. Fletcher was a non-factor in the contest, getting off just two shots, one of those coming on a direct kick late in the contest.
On the other end of the field, the Hilltoppers fired off 14 shots as well as making a number of good runs that kept the Knight defense plenty busy and kept a potent Knight offense on ice for long stretches during the contest.
“That was a good game all-around,” Los Alamos head coach Jiri Kubicek said. “The goal (the Knights) scored was kind of a fluke goal, but we never quit. We scored two goals to get back on top and that took a lot of the wind out of them."
With Thursday’s win, third-seeded Los Alamos grabs the early edge in Pool C. Del Norte needed a win today over the Aztec Tigers and an upset victory by the Tigers over the Hilltoppers Saturday to keep their hopes of advancing alive.
A win by Los Alamos (16-5) will move them into the state semifinals against the winner of Pool B. Los Alamos advanced to the semifinals last season before being knocked out by Albuquerque Academy.
The Hilltoppers wasted little time getting on the board Thursday.
A furious opening by the Hilltoppers which featured several aggressive runs ended when Saya Shimada 1-touched a shot past Del Norte’s Megan Reyes into the goal. Heather Walters, one of the many Hilltoppers who had big outings Thursday, knocked a short centering pass right to Shimada’s feet for the assist, giving the Hilltoppers a quick 1-0 edge just eight minutes in.
Los Alamos’ hard offensive push continued for the next several minutes and the game looked like it might become a laugher early, but a long, looping shot from just inside the Hilltoppers’ territory sailed straight toward the Hilltopper goal.
Los Alamos goalkeeper Jenny Tumas tried to settle under the high-arcing kick, but the ball slid off her glove tips and underneath the crossbar, tying the score.
Tumas redeemed herself several times over during the second half, however. In the 47th minute, she smothered a short-hop ground ball to quell a promising Del Norte run, of which there were few.
For the game, she finished with six saves, five of them coming in the second half.
Shaina Riciputi, Los Alamos’ sweeper, made two stops in the goal mouth as well Thursday, including getting a knee on a point-blank shot from Jennifer Raymer.
After finishing the first half with just three shots, Del Norte’s offense came to life a little in the second half, putting seven shots on goal.
Unal scored her goal by finishing up Chitanvis’ run and shot with just seconds left before the halftime break.
“I think it was good that I was there,” Unal said. “Obviously it shows we were all into the game. It was good shot on Mo’s part. I just finished it. That’s one of the things we’ve got to do is punish the other team for their mistakes.”
Chitanvis’ second goal of the game came with just four minutes expired in the second half, beating Del Norte’s other goalkeeper Laura Sandoval with a chip shot when Sandoval was caught in no-man’s-land.
Her first goal was tallied on an outstanding individual effort at the 36-minute mark. Chitanvis outraced Reyes to a loose ball about 12 yards out, knocking it just out of Reyes’ grasp toward the end line. Chitanvis had an open net but didn’t seem to have much of an angle. Nevertheless, Chitanvis’ bender went well inside right post to make the score 2-1 at that point.