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Girls soccer: Toppers look to get back to playoffs

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By Mike Cote

Despite plenty of new faces being in new places, the 2008 Los Alamos Hilltopper girls soccer team has high expectations for itself.

But there’s a big question that will need to be answered during this regular season.

Los Alamos, which advanced to the 2007 state semifinals, lost three big scoring threats to graduation, including its two point leaders off that team. Desirae Hull, who before getting hurt in the latter half of the season was Class AAAA’s total points leader, and midfielder Sarah Ethridge, the team’s spiritual leader, are both gone.

Now, the Hilltoppers will be looking to replace both the offense and the leadership they provided — they and midfielder Heidi Nakaoka are moving on to play college soccer this season.

Those responsibilities, at least initially, will fall squarely on the shoulders of striker Maneesha Chitanvis and wing Keyla Tumas.

Tumas, Chitanvis and the rest of the Hilltoppers had their first trial this weekend at the Farmington Invitational, where they opened their 2008 campaign.

Even with 10 new players on the roster, the Hilltoppers feel like the team is already well on its way to meshing.

“They’re working hard,” Chitanvis said of the newcomers. “We’re coming together well as a team...there’s no problem with that.”

Los Alamos has seven starters returning this season from the 2007 squad that went 17-5 and advanced to the semifinals before being upset by the Albuquerque Academy Chargers. It was a loss that stung not only because Los Alamos was the second-seeded team in AAAA and considered to be a legitimate contender for the state title, but because it dominated the Chargers in a mid-season game, winning 3-0.

Even with all the newcomers, there seems little reason to believe Los Alamos won’t be pushing for a spot in the state’s final four come crunch time, as it does virtually every season.

Of course, the usual gang of suspects in Class AAAA will likely be hanging around late in the state bracket again.

“Farmington and Academy will be big challenges for the kids coming up from the (junior varsity),” Hilltopper veteran head coach Jiri Kubicek said.

St. Pius X, last season’s champion, is expected to be in the mix to defend its crown as well. St. Pius and Los Alamos had arguably the two best defenses in the state last season, so goals between the two teams will be at a premium.

Chitanvis is the team’s top returning scorer, netting 14 goals and dishing out 10 assists. Asli Unal, who will be playing upfront with Chitanvis, came along late in the 2007 season, particularly after the injuries to Hull (knee) and Chitanvis (quad).

Tumas and Saya Shimada were the team’s two best spark plugs coming off the bench last season. Both are penciled in as starters for the 2008 season and will be asked to help carry the goal-scoring load.

There isn’t any magic when it comes to scoring goals, Tumas said.

“Just keep possession, pass the ball, take some open shots and get them into the net,” Tumas said. “We’re getting our touch back, working on our passes and we’ll get balls into the net.”

In the back are two key returners, Shaina Riciputi, a junior sweeper, and junior goalkeeper Jenny Tumas.

As a sophomore transfer from Tennessee, Riciputi emerged as one of the top defenders in District 2AAAA, earning a 2AAAA honorable mention in her first season.

In goal, Tumas finished with 63 saves and posted a goals-against average of .894 per game, third-best in Class AAAA last season, and earned an All-State honorable mention. However, she also struggled with injuries.

Junior Laura Nelson will return in the back, and senior Kaitlin Schramm will join her on defense.

Kelsey Neal, another All-State honorable mention in 2007, will be in the midfield this season, with newcomers Charlotte Hoover and Heather Walters.

“We’re going to be a very good team, with a little luck,” Kubicek said. “If we work hard, we should be the same caliber team as last year. We can challenge anybody.”

Los Alamos showed what it could do in its opening three contests of the season, pitching two shutouts en route to a win at the Farmington Invitational. See page A10 for more on those wins.

Following this weekend’s Farmington tournament, Los Alamos will travel to Moriarty Tuesday, but will not play again until Sept. 11 when it takes on Las Cruces in the first round of the Albuquerque Academy Invitational.

Los Alamos will host Academy Sept. 16 in its home opener. It will also meet St. Pius Sept. 20 at Sullivan Field.

The District 2AAAA season will open for Los Alamos at home against Capital Sept. 27. Los Alamos is the defending District 2AAAA champion and hasn’t lost a district game since 2004.