Girls soccer: Toppers open 2010 campaign Tuesday at home

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By Mike Cote

The fall 2010 season officially gets underway Tuesday with the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls soccer team having the honor.

Los Alamos will be at home for its season opener, taking on a team it hasn’t seen for awhile, the Belen Eagles.

Little was known about the Eagles in Hilltopper camp, but the focus of this game and much of Los Alamos’ early season schedule isn’t going to be about preparing for its opponents so much as getting itself ready.

“We lost a lot of star players,” Hilltopper senior Keanna Cohen said. “The team and the coaches are going to have to figure out what our strategy is. We have good speed, we’ve got heart and we’ve got brains. We’re going to have to figure out our team goals.”

The big question for the Hilltoppers heading into the 2010 season, as usual, is whether they will be able to fill some big holes left by graduation to make a push for their third consecutive appearance in the Class AAAA title game.

The Hilltoppers posted an impressive won-loss record of 18-4 last season, 17 of those victories coming by way of shutout. But the Hilltoppers lost several of their top scorers to graduation, most notably Kelsey Neal, Shaina Riciputi, Amelia Weaver and Saya Shimada.

Neal and Riciputi combined for 92 total points in 2009 — Neal, with 19 assists, was the leader in that category in Class AAAA — while Weaver tallied 37 points and Shimada collected 32.

Statistically, the top returning offensive threat for Los Alamos is Amy Neal. Neal turned in an impressive freshman year, earning 12 goals and nine assists and will likely play a key role during the early part of the season as the Hilltoppers, most of whom have never been on the varsity’s starting lineup, get things ironed out.

Los Alamos has spent a good portion of its preseason work on passing, particularly one-touch passing that it hopes will translate into goals.

On the defensive side, Jenny Tumas, the top-ranked goalkeeper in AAAA last season, is also gone, along with Laura Nelson, one of the best sweepers in the state regardless of classification.

Sophomore Bryce Theesfeld, a backup for Tumas last season, was penciled in as the opening day starter, but has been banged for part of the preseason and may not take part in Tuesday’s game.

However, a good portion of Los Alamos’ roster may get into Tuesday’s game, as well as its other early season contests, although not entirely for the reason of getting to see where some of the new players on the team fit.

“We all need to get in shape,” Cohen said. “We don’t have really hard games for awhile. We use these as tune-up games.”

After its contests with Belen, Moriarty and Farmington, all Class AAAA schools, Los Alamos will face its first big test of the season when it takes on Rio Rancho, then goes a week later to the always-tough Albuquerque Academy Invitational Tournament.

Los Alamos advanced to its second straight state title contest in 2009 and its fifth title game since 2001. As it did in 2008, however, Los Alamos fell in the championship game to Albuquerque Academy, losing 3-1.

In each of the last two seasons, Los Alamos pulled off impressive victories over Academy’s Chargers during the regular season, but in the championship game, was unable to find the offensive touch.

The Hilltoppers actually outshot the Chargers in the title game last season 13-12 but managed to get just two of those shots on goal, one of which was fielded relatively easily by Charger goalkeeper Erin Wosick. Wosick, a senior last season, is now on the roster of New Mexico State University.

Getting all the way to the final only to be dropped twice in a row by the Chargers is something that is sticking in the Hilltoppers’ craw heading into 2010.Getting all the way to the final only to be dropped twice in a row by the Chargers is something that is sticking in the Hilltoppers’ craw heading into 2010.

“I felt like last year should’ve been a big finish,” Los Alamos senior Charlotte Hoover said. “We’re all looking forward to our next game with Academy. The last couple of years, I think it’s kind of been taken from us. We need to show them what we’ve got.”

Los Alamos last won all the marbles in 2003. Since 2000, when the last major classification realignment was done in New Mexico, only three teams have reached the AAAA finals: Academy, Los Alamos and St. Pius X.

As is usually the case, Los Alamos will meet both St. Pius and Academy during the regular season at least once. Los Alamos will be at Academy Sept. 17 and host St. Pius Oct. 8.

Besides those three schools, the only other school that has positioned itself as a consistent threat in Class AAAA in recent seasons is Volcano Vista. Volcano Vista, however, is migrating to Class 5A this season.

There will be some shakeup in Los Alamos’ district, 2AAAA, this season, although the balance of power is unlikely to change. Los Alamos has won every district title since 2006 and hasn’t lost a district contest since that time.

Last academic year, Española Valley announced it was euthanizing its soccer programs after a decade of abject misery.

While the Española Valley boys program had shown some semblance of improvement the past two seasons, the Sundevil girls’ program was arguably the worst in the state every year since its inception.

Taos, which actually posted an impressive record of 15-7 advanced to the state quarterfinals last season, drops down to Class 3A this season. It will be replaced by Santa Fe, which is dropping from Class 5A to Class 4A in all sports.

While Santa Fe could be something of a wildcard in the district, most of the Demons’ stint in 5A was spent as an also-ran.

But with plenty of time until the district opener and even more until the playoffs, Los Alamos will simply be trying to improve as much as it can.

“We’re getting there,” Hoover said. “We still need some more practice, but we’re getting there.”