Hilltoppers meet Chargers again

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By Mike Cote

In the 2006 state semifinal round, the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls soccer team downed Albuquerque Academy 1-0, then took on St. Pius X in the Class AAAA championship.

Things don't change much.

On Thursday, the Hilltoppers will be looking for a return trip to the AAAA title game when they take on Albuquerque Academy's Chargers. That game will kickoff at 11 a.m. at the Farmers Insurance Soccer Complex near Bernalillo.

St. Pius, the top seed in the tournament faces off against fourth-seeded Aztec in the other semifinal Thursday. The two winners meet Friday for the Class AAAA crown.

This will be the second meeting between Los Alamos and Academy in 2007. Los Alamos scored perhaps its best game of the season Sept. 18 when it topped Academy 3-0 at Sullivan Field.

In that game, Academy managed only six shots, four on goal, while Sarah Ethridge and Kelsey Neal scored in the first half and Maneesha Chitanvis would add a late goal to put the contest away. Los Alamos fired off 23 shots.

Since then, Academy lost just three times. For Academy, two of those losses came at the hands of St. Pius in District 5AAAA play.

Academy, seeded third in the tournament and the top seed in Pool C of the World Cup playoffs, handily dispatched its pool opponents to qualify for the semifinals.

Going into the playoffs, Academy (15-7) came in as one of the hottest teams in the state, having won eight of nine, all by shutout, then blanked sixth-seeded Del Norte and 11th-seeded Taos.

Los Alamos, meanwhile, blanked seventh-seeded Moriarty, 1-0 in its first Pool B game Thursday, then came back to top Santa Teresa 5-0 Saturday to advance.

And though the Hilltoppers (18-4) went into pool play having won four of five, head coach Jiri Kubicek hadn't been terribly impressed with how his team had been playing in the latter part of the season. He was lukewarm about his team's performance in Pool C.

"I think we struggled both games, but that's a good sign," Kubicek said following Saturday's win over Santa Teresa. "We have a week to work on the details; finishing, set plays...we'll be alright."

The Hilltopper defense was stellar in their two Pool C wins, allowing just seven shots to Moriarty's Pintos, only two of them on goal, and none to Santa Teresa's Desert Warriors.

The Chargers, however, have more offensive firepower than both of those teams combined. Shelley Casey, a senior striker, was first in goals and second in total points for Class AAAA this season, registering 34 tallies and 12 assists. Only Courtney Tinin of St. Pius had more total points than Casey, 81 to Casey's 80.

Jennifer White of Academy finished seventh in AAAA total points. White had 18 goals and eight assists.

Los Alamos' back line has developed into one of the most formidable in the state, however, with sweeper Shaina Riciputi, after an up-and-down first part of the season, having become one of the most formidable defenders in the state.

Bryn Morgan added to a fine season with a solid performance marking Moriarty's Adrienne Lents, and Bryanna Richins and Laura Nelson turning in good performances during pool play as well.

In goal, Jenny Tumas sports an .893 goals allowed average - fourth-best in AAAA - and has picked up 63 saves this season.

On the offensive side, Los Alamos has four players among the top 20 in scoring this season, led by Desirae Hull's 20 goals and nine assists. Hull had three goals Saturday despite being slowed by an ankle injury that cost her more than three weeks on the bench.

Following the fifth-ranked Hull is the sixth-ranked Ethridge, who has 46 points on the season. Chitanvis is 11th in scoring with 14 goals and 10 assists, and Heidi Nakaoka is third in the state in assists with 16 to go along with seven goals.

Los Alamos played a soft second-half schedule, mostly because it had eight games against its weak district competition, which it outscored 75-0 in those eight games. That, combined with a World Cup that saw it miss on a dozen good scoring opportunities, might be something that could have some teams worried, but not Los Alamos.

"I don't think it's a concern," said midfielder Keyla Tumas following Saturday's game. "I think we can do it. We have to work hard as a team and get good shots. We're playing better."

In the other semifinal, St. Pius will be a heavy favorite facing Aztec, a team that very quietly won Pool D.

Aztec (14-7) has a good defense anchored by goalkeeper Stephanie Oaks, whose 180 saves was second among Class AAAA backstops and her .854 GAA was third. The Tigers surrendered more than two goals in only one game all season.

Oaks and the Aztec defense will be tested against St. Pius (17-3), who boast three scorers in the top 10 individually, including Tinin (32 goals), Rachael Montoya (21 goals, 23 assists) and Reyna Naranjo (42 total points).

On defense, the Sartans have given up just 13 goals this season. Caitlin Boal has the lowest GAA in the state, at .665.