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Girls soccer: LA falls in AAAA title game to Academy, 3-1

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By Mike Cote

ALBUQUERQUE — It wasn't time for the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls soccer team to panic after falling behind to the Albuquerque Academy Chargers.

It was a situation the Hilltoppers had been in before this season when playing Academy.

The difference Saturday, however, was that while Los Alamos was able to convert when it needed to before, those conversions were nowhere to be found when it needed them the most.

The Hilltoppers dropped the 2009 Class AAAA state title game Saturday night to the Chargers. The Chargers scored a goal early in the contest then tacked on two more goals in the second half to put the Hilltoppers away 3-1 and pick up their second straight state championship.

The AAAA tournament was played at the Albuquerque Public Schools Soccer Complex.

Although it trailed virtually the entire game, Los Alamos looked like it was about to get back in Saturday night's game with a goal in the 58th minute. A late goal on an impressive individual effort by Academy's Caroline Growney, however, sealed the victory and the crown for the Chargers.

Los Alamos also came up on the short end of the state final against Academy in 2008, losing that contest 1-0.

"It's a bit of déjà vu," Hilltopper goalkeeper Jenny Tumas said after the loss.

Tumas, who in 2009 was the top-ranked goalkeeper in AAAA statistically, had a busy night Saturday, making five saves.

But she and Los Alamos' outstanding defense got to see first-hand Academy's quick-strike capability several times.

With Academy up 1-0 midway through the second half, Charger Jennifer White blew down the heart of the Los Alamos defense to run down a centering pass and push it just inside the right post to give the Chargers a commanding lead.

Los Alamos, however, had a comeback on its mind similar to the one it made when the two teams met during the 2009 regular season. In that game, played Sept. 15, Los Alamos bounced back from a 2-0 deficit in the second half to upend Academy 3-2 in overtime.

Things appeared to be shaping up for another dramatic comeback in the 58th minute, when Hilltopper senior Gina Stroud connected on a header attempt off Amy Neal's well-placed corner kick to cut the Charger deficit in half.

But Growney's goal in the 77th minute would sap the energy right out of Los Alamos' comeback attempt.

As has often been the case in the Hilltoppers' recent playoff history, they struggled to find the net when the opportunities presented themselves.

"It wasn't quite enough," Los Alamos head coach Jiri Kubicek said. "We weren't playing the sharp soccer we did (Friday). We didn't produce anything. We didn't have many shots and when we did, we missed them."

The night before, Los Alamos downed St. Pius X to advance to its second title game in a row and fifth since 2001. Los Alamos' last state championship came in 2003.

Since 2000, only Los Alamos, Academy and St. Pius have made it to the finals of the girls soccer tournament.

The Hilltoppers actually outshot the Chargers 13-12 Saturday, but managed to get only two of those shots on goal.

"I thought we played our hearts out," Tumas said. "We obviously wanted to win. This was my last tournament. I'm going to take everything positively. Winning or losing doesn't mean everything."

Los Alamos wrapped-up its 2009 season with a record of 18-4.

Along with Tumas and Stroud Saturday's game was the finale in the prep careers of Kelsey Neal, Laura Nelson, Feliz Pacheco, Shaina Riciputi, Amelia Weaver, Summer Shelley and Saya Shimada.

 

Los Alamos 2, St. Pius X 0

 

The Hilltoppers converted a pair of goals in the second half of Friday night’s semifinal contest against third-seeded St. Pius (15-6) to advance to Saturday’s state title game.

Both teams struggled to crack the other’s stout defense Friday night, but on one of its few chances in the second half, Los Alamos’ Shannon Blair was pulled down in the penalty box by a St. Pius defender. Hilltopper midfielder Kelsey Neal converted the penalty kick to give the Hilltoppers all the offense they would need.

Just four minutes later, in the 67th minute, the Hilltoppers tacked on an insurance goal. Amy Neal found the handle on a long direct kick from Nelson, which landed near the top of St. Pius’ penalty box. Neal made a quick move to the goal and hit her shot high and past Sartan goalkeeper Alex Gallegos.

Along with her assist, Nelson had a sparkling game on defense Friday night. Playing the deep sweeper position, she turned back several through balls on the night that were heading toward the direction of Reyna Naranjo, the Sartans’ leading scorer on the season.

Both teams finished with 10 shots on the night. Tumas, who had allowed just two goals in her last 12 games this season, finished with five saves to pick up her 17th shutout victory of 2009.

In the 19th minute, Tumas went up high to punch a long, hard shot over the crossbar from St. Pius’ Christie Barela to preserve the scoreless tie.