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BERNALILLO — Like the Association’s song, everybody at Thursday’s state girls soccer semifinal knew it was windy.
Both the defenses from Los Alamos and Volcano Vista found that out the hard way in each half, but the Hilltopper offense was able to come through with a pair of goals in the second half to knock off the Hawks 3-1 and advance to tonight’s Class AAAA championship game.
In tonight’s final, set for 7 p.m. at the State Farm Soccer Complex, Los Alamos will face the Albuquerque Academy Chargers, who topped the defending state champion St. Pius X Sartans 1-0.
Against the Hawks, Keyla Tumas scored a pair of goals, both coming at the very onset of each half, and Maneesha Chitanvis had a dominant performance with an insurance goal in the 50th minute and assists on both of Tumas’ goals.
Meanwhile, the Hilltopper defense bounced back after surrendering an early equalizer to Volcano Vista and held the potent Hawk offense at bay for much of Thursday’s contest.
“I think the defense has been solid all year,” Los Alamos sweeper Shaina Riciputi said of the Hilltopper back line that has allowed just two goals in three state tournament games so far. “Half our defense was here last year and the other half are younger ones who really want to be out here. If we hold strong, we’ll be fine.”
Volcano Vista, which scored 85 goals this season including 13 in the playoffs, fired off eight shots in the first half Thursday but managed just the one goal in the 27th minute.
Following a Hawk shot that was deflected out of bounds off Los Alamos, Olivia Ferrier’s ensuing corner kick was initially punched away from the goal mouth by Hilltopper goalkeeper Jenny Tumas. Unfortunately, the ball ended up at the feet of Renee Romero, who lined a shot through traffic, deflected off a Hilltopper defender and inside the far post to tie the score at 1-1.
The Hawks’ goal answered Keyla Tumas’ quick strike just three minutes in. With one of the few opportunities the Los Alamos offense could whip up in the first half, Chitanvis in the left corner found Tumas making a run down the right side and Tumas lifted a shot that deflected off Volcano Vista goalkeeper Chelsea Coleman’s fingertips and into the goal.
Because of the strong winds that blew steadily throughout the game — occasionally gusting up to 45 miles an hour — the Hilltopper defense struggled to get the ball off its own side of the field.
The Hawks outshot the Hilltoppers 8-4 in the first 40 minutes.
“The wind was a huge factor,” Keyla Tumas said afterward. “It was really hard to play against...every ball that was to you, you’d try to get it back down the field but it didn’t go very far.”
When the two teams changed sides after the halftime break, it was the Hilltoppers’ turn with the wind and the Hawks’ turn to struggle with it.
Not 45 seconds into the second half, Chitanvis again had the ball deep in Hawk territory and sent another centering pass from the corner straight to Tumas’ foot. Tumas hit a 2-touch right past Coleman just inside the right post to give the Hilltoppers a 2-1 edge.
Chitanvis has had a hand in all but one of the Hilltoppers’ eight goals this postseason, including assisting Amelia Weaver on the only goal Los Alamos got in its win over Aztec to secure a spot in Thursday’s semifinal.
It’s hard to overstate Chitanvis’ value to the Hilltoppers this season, especially after leading Class AAAA in scoring during the regular season.
“She means a lot,” Los Alamos head coach Jiri Kubicek said. “At the beginning of the season, she was scoring a lot of goals when we couldn’t get anything going.”
Chitanvis punished the Hawks after a defensive turnover, stealing the ball then blasting a shot from the right side across Coleman’s body for the third and final score. The thunderous shot-and-score at the 50-minute seemed to deflate the Hawks completely. The Hawks managed to get off no shots in the second half and even struggled to get the ball out of their own side of the field for the final 30 minutes.
For Los Alamos, which went into the playoffs a bit irked that Volcano Vista got the No. 2 seed and it was given the No. 3 seed in the tournament, its finally getting to the final was a bumpy road, but where the team though it would end up from day one of preseason workouts.
“It feels awesome,” Riciputi said. “Last year, when we got knocked out (in the semifinals), it was disappointing. We thought we could’ve gone further.”
Los Alamos was knocked out of the tournament by those same Academy Chargers in a nail-biter that was decided by a 74th minute goal from Riah Risk.
The two teams met in the regular season, Sept. 16 at Academy, with the Chargers coming out on top 2-0.
“Both those goals were kind of bad breaks,” Riciputi said. “We proved last year we could play with them and we have a good chance if we play our best.”
Kubicek said the state title is completely in his team’s hands.
“We have to play a very strong game,” he said. “We match up well. We lost to them (earlier in the season), but it’ll be a totally different game.”
It was a tough end to a noteworthy season for the Hawks (17-6), but with their roster made up entirely of freshmen and sophomores it is highly unlikely that this will be their final trip to the state AAAA semifinals.
GOAL-DEN OPPORTUNITY Los Alamos’ Maneesha Chitanvis sends a hard liner toward the Volcano Vista goal during the second half of Thursday’s Class AAAA semifinal playoff game. Chitanvis’ goal in the 50th minute helped secure a spot for the Hilltoppers in the title game.