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Jaguars take over first place in district

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Boys soccer: LA manages just 4 shots in contest

By Mike Cote

SANTA FE — With one play, the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys soccer team lost its grip on District 2-4A and may now be at the mercy of the seeding and selection committee to see where it will land in the upcoming playoff tournament.

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Worse still, Los Alamos’ leading scorer was injured on that play and his return this season is up in the air.

The Hilltoppers were upset by the Capital Jaguars Tuesday afternoon. The Jaguars scored twice in the second half while allowing the Hilltoppers just four shots and only one on-goal to win 2-0.

By virtue of their 2-0 win, the Jaguars not only tied the Hilltoppers in the loss column in the district race but picked up the head-to-head tiebreaker between the two teams. The Hilltoppers only scored one goal against the Jaguars this season, that coming in the teams’ first meeting Oct. 1.

“It felt good,” said Capital head coach Eugene Doyle. “The last time we beat Los Alamos was the first game I ever coached against them…Los Alamos is a great team. Once we get in the (playoff) tournament, anything can happen. I hope we see Los Alamos again in the tournament.”

The game was the season finale for Los Alamos (9-11 overall, 5-1 in 2-4A), which will now be the biggest fan of the Santa Fe Demons, Capital’s opponent in its season finale (15-3, 4-1) Saturday. Should Santa Fe upset Capital in that contest, Los Alamos would move back into first place and it would put Capital on the playoff bubble.

Los Alamos head coach Evan Gartz said he was fully prepared to hit the road for the opening round of the playoffs, which is played at the home sites of the higher seeds.

“I think we’ll be traveling and we’ll probably be traveling far,” Gartz said. “The only thing we could’ve really hung our hats on was a district championship and we don’t have that. That really hurt us.”

The Jaguars topped the Demons (6-8 overall) in their first meeting 3-0 Oct. 4.

While Los Alamos, the defending Class 4A champ, lost out on its chance on a guaranteed playoff spot Tuesday, but doesn’t appear to be in a lot of danger of being excluded from the postseason field, either.
The boys and girls soccer playoff brackets are due to be announced Sunday by the New Mexico Activities Association.

Of course, Los Alamos could’ve clinched the district title and its accompanying playoff slot with a win Tuesday, but never got anything going against the Jaguars on the offensive end.

Capital, a strong offensive team, came out Tuesday employing a surprising tactic. The Jaguars packed the defense in, often keeping nine or 10 players back to support goalkeeper Kevin Gomez, the top-ranked backstop in Class 4A, instead of trying to score early and often.

Capital often had its leading scorer, Jason Alarcon, isolated at the top of its formation to take on the Los Alamos back line single-handedly.

Doyle decided to switch his formation to a 4-3-2-1 set after seeing that Los Alamos had dominated in the midfield in their first meeting. The formation was one the Jaguars had employed earlier in the season but didn’t show Los Alamos prior to Tuesday.

The tactic would actually pay off, however, late in the contest.

In what would be a costly series for the Hilltoppers, Alarcon raced from about the midline to just outside the Hilltopper penalty box trying to chase down a long through-ball.

On the play, Los Alamos midfielder Henry Steinkamp backpedaled toward the penalty box, trying to keep Alarcon, a speedy sophomore, away from the through-ball, but as he did, Hilltopper goalkeeper Lorenzo Venneri raced out from goal to cut the ball off.

Steinkamp and Venneri crashed into one another right at the top of the box, sending both to the ground.

Meanwhile, the ball squirted past the pile-up, where Alarcon chased it down and knocked it into the open net with just over two minutes to play in regulation.

Alarcon’s goal gave the Jaguars the 2-0 lead they were seeking. Los Alamos tried to counter late, actually sending all 11 players on the field, including Venneri to the Capital goal on a corner kick chance with under a minute to play, hoping to trim the advantage to just one goal.

Steinkamp lay on the ground for several minutes following his collision with Venneri. Steinkamp went straight to the hospital and had surgery on his shoulder, which was dislocated and had a bone fragment in it.

His status for the playoffs is unknown at this point, but Gartz said the team will be preparing to play without him.

Should Steinkamp be unable to play in the playoffs, that could be an enormous problem for the Hilltoppers.

The majority of the Hilltoppers’ offense runs through Steinkamp and he is Los Alamos’ leading-point producer, having notched seven goals and six assists this season.

The two teams played to a scoreless tie in the first half, combining for just three shots — Capital’s lone shot of the half didn’t come until the 39-minute mark.

Los Alamos’ defense kept Alarcon largely under wraps in the first half, thanks to the double-marking efforts of Zeke Zumbro and Ben Stewart in the back.

In the 64th minute, however, Capital broke the scoreless tie with a one-touch goal by Luis Rios-Olivas from about 20 yards out. Rios-Olivas got a quick pass just right of the Hilltopper goal from Helian Najera then sent a rocket to the left post past a diving Venneri, who had no chance at it.

Rios-Olivas also sent the through-ball to Alarcon on the second goal.

“Luis has really stepped up his game,” Doyle said. “He’s stepped up a lot in district.”

Gartz said Capital won many critical battles in the middle of the field and was able to keep better control of the ball.

Moreover, the Jaguars came out more fired up than did the Hilltoppers, something Gartz found particularly worrisome.

“That seemed like that’s how the game was going,” he said. “When we go in knowing we’re going to win, we play with a lot of energy. In hard games, when we know we’re going into a dogfight, I don’t know where that mental toughness is.”