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All anybody could do was watch.
A slow, bouncing shot off the foot of Hilltopper striker Saya Shimada took its time, but it found the St. Michael’s net in overtime Saturday.
Following a terrific run through traffic, Los Alamos’ Summer Shelley bounced a pass in the general direction of Shimada, who got just enough of the ball to get it passed St. Michael’s goalkeeper Sally Feldwert and over the line to give the Hilltoppers a 1-0 win and the championship of the Los Alamos Girls Soccer Invitational.
The season-opening tournament, which started Friday, is believed to be the first such event the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls soccer team has hosted. The entire tournament was played at Sullivan Field.
Shimada’s goal with under two minutes remaining in the first overtime period topped off a bruising tournament finale.
“I just kind of watched it roll in,” said Shimada, who went to the ground while attempting the shot and watched the game-winner lying on her side. “I was just like, ‘keep going.’”
Much of the game was nip-and-tuck between the two teams, but Los Alamos clearly had more in the tank than did the Horsemen heading into the overtime period. The Horsemen didn’t make much of an offensive push in the extra period, while Los Alamos had two good looks before finally grabbing the win.
“It was a really physical game,” Hilltopper veteran head coach Jiri Kubicek said. “They’re a great team. I have to give St. Mike’s credit. They kept their formation and made it hard to get through.”
Going into the tournament, Kubicek said he was glad his program was getting an opportunity to host such an event. And while he said he would like to see this tournament continue on an annual basis, he would prefer to get some Class 5A schools involved, upping the quality of the competition, and push the tournament back another week or two instead of having it at the start of the school year.
Los Alamos had little trouble advancing to the tournament’s title game, shutting out both of its pool A opponents Friday. Los Alamos rolled over Ruidoso 10-0 Friday mid-morning, closing out that contest in under 54 minutes, then came back to blank Kirtland Central 2-0 Friday night.
Despite scoring 12 goals in pool play, Kubicek said the offense will have to find more consistency than it did, particularly against Kirtland Central. He was hoping to see the kind of barrage that he saw in the second half against Ruidoso’s Warriors.
After jumping up 5-0 on the Warriors in the Hilltoppers’ opening game, the Hilltoppers exploded for five goals in just a little over 13 minutes to close out the contest early.
Charlotte Hoover scored a pair of goals in the second half within about 45 seconds of each other, while Shimada earned an assist on a goal by Shaina Riciputi and scored the game-winner on a direct kick less than a yard out from the edge of the penalty box.
Hoover would come up huge Friday. She would also be credited with assists both goals against Kirtland Central’s Broncos in Friday’s nightcap.
Los Alamos, which plans to spend the early part of its season getting its offense set up – its defense, which was stellar Friday, is fairly well set in stone – may have found one of the pieces of that puzzle in Hoover.
“We’re going to keep focus on scoring and we can only score from shooting,” Hoover said following Friday’s victory over Kirtland Central. “We’re really going to focus on that.”
Los Alamos dominated Kirtland Central in the third pool A game, getting off 15 shots-on-goal to Kirtland Central’s 4.
Unfortunately, many of the Hilltoppers’ shot attempts were well off-target, something that Kubicek wasn’t thrilled about.
Hoover concurred, saying that there’s still plenty of work left to do on the offensive end.
“We weren’t getting to our crosses,” she said. “But we found a lot of spaces in the defense to create opportunities.”
Jenny Tumas finished with just one save in goal, while the Broncos’ Kimberly Smith had to stop eight shots.
Following the two victories Friday, Los Alamos advanced to Saturday’s tournament title game against St. Michael’s.
St. Michael’s, a Class A-AAA team that has historically given Los Alamos all kinds of headaches, took the top spot in pool B play, crushing the hapless Capital Jaguars 10-0 Friday morning and coming back from an early deficit against Aztec’s Tigers to win 3-1 Friday afternoon.
But in the tournament’s title game, the Hilltoppers (3-0) put together some good runs throughout regulation against the Horsemen (2-1), who didn’t have the speed to keep up with the Hilltopper front line.
Forward Amelia Weaver was able on several occasions to dribble down the wing and cut in toward the goal against St. Michael’s defense, creating plenty of good looks.
Creating looks without finishing, Weaver said, isn’t going to be good enough down the stretch.
“Their defense wasn’t the quickest and I made some runs, but I need to work on my timing and my touch,” she said. “I can run and run and run all day long, but if I don’t have the touch at the end, it’s all for nothing.”
For the contest, Los Alamos got off 11 shots to St. Michael’s 5 shots. Feldewert finished with three saves.
“It gets really frustrating, especially when you could’ve done so much better,” Shimada said, noting she got particularly steamed when her late regulation direct kick from 25 yards out clanked off the crossbar.
Tumas needed to stop just one shot-on-goal by St. Michael’s to earn her third shutout of the season and came out of goal to pick the pocket of dangerous Horsemen forward Jamie Palermo about 10 yards from the goal mouth.
Against Ruidoso, midfielder Kelsey Neal finished with a first-half hat trick, scoring in the second, 18th and 39th minute. Neal bruised, bumped and outran the struggling Ruidoso defense on her goals, all of which were unassisted.
Weaver had a goal in the eighth minute and assisted Amy Neal on her goal – the first of her varsity career – in the 32nd minute.
Los Alamos took 41 shots against the Warriors, while the Warriors struggled to even get the ball past the midfield stripe. Warrior goalkeeper Maritza Nava had 9 saves in the first half and Claudia Morales had 3 saves in the second half.
Weaver finished with a goal in the 14th minute against Kirtland Central, which was followed up about four minutes later by Madison Ahlers goal, on which Kelsey Neal and Hoover both assisted.
Los Alamos was hoping for the clean sweep in its first ever tournament and it delivered.
“It was neat to set a precedent,” Weaver said. “It was our first home tournament, it was our first home tournament championship, three shutouts in a row…Hopefully, we’ll keep that up.”