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Hilltoppers, Scorpions top Cernicek Invite lineup

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By Mike Cote

The two most recent winners of the Louie Cernicek Invitational tournament could be on a collision course in the 2013 model.
Los Alamos’ boys soccer team will host the 17th annual Louie Cernicek Invitational, which starts Friday. Along with Los Alamos, which won it all last season, several solid schools will also participate this weekend.
Among the favorites of the tournament is Farmington, which has enjoyed its best run of success in school history in the last few years. Farmington, which won the 2009 and 2011 state championship and finished as the runner-up in Class 4A last season, is on the opposite side of the eight-team tournament bracket as the Hilltoppers and may be the team to beat on the bottom half.
Farmington, however, won’t be able to rely on the services of Jeremy Klepac, one of the most dangerous offensive players in 4A in the previous two seasons who scored what appeared to be the game-winner in last year’s Cernicek championship contest — beating a trio of Hilltopper defenders to do so — until Ben Stewart came through with the equalizer deep in stoppage time to force overtime and ultimately help the Hilltoppers to a 2-1 victory in the first OT period.
Of the eight teams competing this weekend, seven of them are Class 4A schools, the lone exception being Clovis, a potential second round opponent for the Hilltoppers.
Hilltopper head coach Evan Gartz said going in his focus isn’t on the other teams.
“There’s a lot of good teams coming and we’ll be tested,” he said. “I really don’t care about other teams, but I really want to see us get better.”
Los Alamos lost its first game of the season Tuesday, falling to Bosque 2-1.
Meanwhile, the Scorpions have some returners from last season under new coach Byron Farnsworth, but several starters up top and in the midfield are new.
Their opening round tournament contest against Bernalillo Friday morning is the team’s debut under Farnsworth, who, interestingly, will be the third Farmington head coach in as many seasons.
Gartz said Farmington has turned into a program that can play consistently at the state level, but the Scorpions will have to prove it after their off-season losses.
“I know their coach is very optimistic, but we’ll see,” Gartz said. “There’s a lot of question marks.”
In most tournaments, the home team usually stacks the deck in its favor so it has the best chance of winning, but it’s hard to accuse Los Alamos of doing that. It has only won its home tournament three times in the last 10 years.
In fact, the Hilltoppers could only manage a fourth-place finish in 2011 and didn’t even escape the first round of their own tournament in 2009.
Los Alamos will face Goddard in the opening round. Goddard limped through a 5-13-1 season in 2012 and this year features a roster with 13 underclassmen.
The Rockets opened up their year Tuesday at Ruidoso, losing 2-1. The Rockets led 1-0 at the break but Ruidoso bounced back with two unanswered goals after halftime to win.
Winners of Friday’s games will advance to the semifinals Saturday morning. The tournament championship game is set for 6 p.m. Saturday at Sullivan Field.
The tournament, which was known as the Mountain Top Invitational until 1999, was renamed in honor of Louie Cernicek, the first head coach at Los Alamos and one of the people credited with bringing prep soccer to New Mexico.

Tournament Schedule

Friday

Los Alamos vs. Goddard, 8:30 a.m.
Bernalillo vs. Farmington, 10;30 a.m.
Piedra Vista vs. Clovis, 12:30 p.m.
Roswell vs. Belen, 2:30 p.m.

Los Alamos-Goddard loser vs. Piedra Vista-Clovis loser, 4:30 p.m.
Roswell-Belen loser vs. Bernalillo-Farmington loser, 6:30 p.m.

Saturday

Roswell-Belen winner vs. Bernalillo-Farmington winner, 8 a.m.
Los Alamos-Goddard winner vs. Piedra Vista-Clovis winner, 10 a.m.

Seventh-place game, noon.
Fifth-place game, 2 p.m.
Third-place game, 4 p.m.
Championship game, 6 p.m.

• All games at Sullivan Field