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The bad news the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls soccer team was given Sunday was quickly tempered with much better news.
Los Alamos was more than a little bummed that its two big wins in the final two games of its regular season didn’t seem to count for much when the seeding for the Class AAAA state tournament was announced. Instead of their two wins over St. Michael’s and Aztec in the final two days of the regular season boosting their stock, the Hilltoppers fell into pretty much the exact same spot they were projected to go into prior to the two wins.
But, as a consequence of their No. 6 seed in the tournament, the Hilltoppers have a much more favorable, far less bumpy journey to making their third straight appearance in the AAAA championship game.
“It was definitely a hard hit at first,” Los Alamos midfielder Charlotte Hoover said. “”But looking at the plus side, it’s better than getting a high seed.”
Los Alamos landed on the more desirable side of the state tournament bracket with its No. 6 seeding. Instead of having to go through the two-time defending champion Albuquerque Academy Chargers’ side of the bracket, Los Alamos will potentially face two teams it is familiar with, including the Aztec Tigers whom it knocked off 2-1 in a shootout last Saturday.
Prior to those match-ups, however, Los Alamos will have to get by 11th-seeded Kirtland Central. Los Alamos and Kirtland Central face off in the first round of the state tournament at Sullivan Field at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.
The Bronocs (9-10) are one of four teams to advance to the playoffs this season from the very tough District 1AAAA, along with second-seeded Aztec, third-seeded Farmington and 12th-seeded Piedra Vista.
While the Broncos have been up and down the dial this season — they scored 44 goals and gave up 35 goals, both coming in mostly in bunches — they are battle-tested after facing both Aztec and Farmington twice this season, along with contests against Piedra Vista and No. 4 seed Miyamura.
“We had a pretty decent season,” Kirtland Central head coach Leonel Camacho said. “We had some losses we shouldn’t have had, but technically, we got better.”
Camacho said one of the big areas of improvement in 2010, as opposed to 2009, was the team’s ability to capitalize on its corner kick opportunities. In 2009, Kirtland Central didn’t score one goal on corner kicks, but managed this season to pick up several key goals when it’s had chances from the corner.
The Broncos have been sparked this season on offense by Madaline Tanner, who scored 16 goals — three more than the team’s next three top goal-scorers put together — and added four assists.
But Camacho said it has been his defense that it has relied on this season. Kallie Farnsworth has been the team’s rock at center fullback.
“She’s a senior, she’s a very strong athlete and she’s very smart,” Camacho said of Farnsworth. “She’s very athletic.”
Offensively, Los Alamos and Kirtland Central have something in common, that being their main weapons are both sophomores.
In 2010, the Hilltopper offense was paced by Amy Neal, who earlier this week was named the District 2AAAA Offensive Player of the Year.
This season, Neal finished as the sixth-rated offensive player in AAAA, scoring 16 goals and dealing out 13 assists (45 total points).
Generating goals this season, however, has been a big issue for Los Alamos (11-9) outside of several big routs by the team over its district opponents. In an important seven-game stretching between late August and mid September, the team managed just seven goals, three of those coming in one game.
At least one of those games during that stretch, an Aug. 28 tilt against Farmington, might have adversely affected the team’s seeding this season. Los Alamos was shut out by Farmington 1-0 in its trip to the Four Corners area.
Nevertheless, Los Alamos feels a lot better about how it’s playing now than it did earlier this season, particularly after the St. Mike’s and Aztec games.
“I think we’re really confident,” Hoover said. “Those victories have given us a lot of hope. We need to work on what we started the rest of the week.”
Defensively, Los Alamos has generally been solid all season, although it suffered two big regular season losses against St. Pius X and Academy, which topped Los Alamos by a combined 8-1 in two games.
Hilltopper goalkeeper Bryce Theesfeld, a sophomore who is playing her first season in goal for the varsity team, said the defense in front of her has gotten better as 2010 has wore on.
“We’ve got a good sweeper in Stephanie (Blair) in the back,” said Theesfeld, who admitted she’s a little nervous about the start of the playoffs, but added she’s feeling “pretty confident. We’ve had a couple of good games. I’m hoping to keep my head straight.”
Theesfeld, who finished the season with an .838 goals-against average, fourth-best in AAAA, said one of the things that’s boosted her confidence was the shootout against Aztec, which she felt gave her some key experience heading into state — the only other shootout she’d been involved in was the Farmington game in August.
In 2009, Los Alamos advanced to the state title game for the second straight season, but for the second straight season lost to Academy after defeating the Chargers during the regular season.
Los Alamos last won the AAAA title in 2003, defeating the Chargers in overtime 1-0.
In the program’s history, the Hilltoppers have won the state championship four times, twice under current head coach Jiri Kubicek — he led them to a state title in 1998 as well — and twice more in the early 1980s.