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Should the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls basketball team be in a position where it's in need of an at-large bid to the playoffs, any strength of schedule tiebreakers will likely break its way.
Los Alamos opens its 2012-13 season Tuesday night on the road at St. Michael's. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Heading into their opener, the Hilltoppers have10 players who spent at least some time with the varsity squad returning, including three key veterans coming back.
Of those returners, senior Erin Kirk and junior Hayley Each, along with second-year varsity player Marissa Larribas, will make up a big group around the lane.
"We've still got a lot of size with Hayley, Erin and Marissa," Los Alamos head coach Tarah Logan said. "We've been pushing really hard to make an effort to push the ball inside."
Logan, going into her fifth season with the Hilltoppers, doesn't want her team to be one-dimensional, however. She said returning guards, sophomore Amber Logan and junior McKenzie Logan, along with senior Anna Scott, who missed time last year due to injury, can steer an effective transition game.
To do so, Los Alamos must limit its turnovers, which has been a problem in the recent past, particularly against teams like district opponent Española Valley that are adept at playing pressure defense.
Early in the season, Los Alamos should see plenty of pressure from teams like St. Mike's, Pojoaque and Hope Christian, three formidable Class 3A programs.
Along with those contests, the Hilltoppers, who finished 12-14 last season, will have a tough early season contest against Class 4A's Albuquerque Academy Dec. 6 and face Los Lunas in the first round of Academy's invitational tournament Dec. 13. Los Lunas, which picked up Class 4A's most dominant post player, Teige Zeller, who transferred in from Grants during the summer, immediately becomes the team to beat in District 6.
Los Alamos feels good about its chance to make some noise in the postseason. The fight for the top spot in Class 4A may not be clear cut this year as the defending champion Kirtland Central Broncos, who are far more often than not the team to beat, took it on the chin against Española Valley in their season opener last Tuesday.
If Los Alamos can wade through its tough nondistrict schedule and potentially very tough district, it should be battle-tested and ready for a playoff run. The Hilltoppers' District 2-4A opponent, Santa Fe, could be poised for a big year with several talented young players slated to return.
Roswell, the Class 4A runner-up in 2011-12, could be a factor in the state title race this season, while St. Pius X and Del Norte also have strong talent coming back. Miyamura has gotten some preseason buzz, as well.
Last year, the Hilltoppers were downed by the Grants Pirates, the No. 1 overall seed, 62-44 in the opening round. The Hilltoppers have only advanced past the first round once since 2007-08.
Logan said during the early part of the season, she'll be more concerned about making sure the team is communicating than wins and losses.
"We'll be looking for leadership from the girls who are coming back," she said. "We're learning how to experience success together. We know there's a lot of things that we do well together."
Tarah Logan (5th year)
Anna Scott, 5-4
Cristina Perez, 5-3
Erin Kirk, 5-10
Kianna Zerr, 5-5
Krysta Salazar, 5-3
Hayley Each, 6-0
McKenzie Logan, 5-4
Marissa Larribas, 5-8
Elena Atencio, 5-6
Alison Crane, 5-3
Shannon Doyle, 5-4
Kristen Paulson, 5-6
Amber Logan, 5-3
(*: District 2-4A game)
Nov. 20: at St. Michael’s, 7 p.m.
Nov. 30: vs. Pojoaque, 7 p.m.
Dec. 6: at Academy, 7 p.m.
Dec. 8: vs. Moriarty, 7 p.m.
Dec. 11: vs. Hope Christian, 7 p.m.
Dec. 13-15: at Joe Armijo Invite, TBA.
Dec. 21: at Piedra Vista, 7 p.m.
Dec.22: vs. Grants, 3 p.m.
Dec. 26-28: at Goddard Invite, TBA.
Jan. 2: vs. West Las Vegas, 7 p.m.
Jan. 5: vs. Belen, 4 p.m.
Jan. 11: at St. Pius X, 7 p.m.
Jan. 15: at Taos, 7 p.m.
Jan. 18: vs. Sandia, 7 p.m.
Jan. 22: at Bernalillo, 7 p.m.*
Jan. 25: vs. Santa Fe, 7 p.m.*
Jan. 30: at Española Valley, 7 p.m.*
Feb. 2: vs. Capital, 7 p.m.*
Feb. 8: vs. Bernalillo, 7 p.m.*
Feb. 12: at Santa Fe, 7 p.m.*
Feb. 15: vs. Española Valley, 7 p.m.*
Feb. 20: at Capital, 7 p.m.*