LA to face familiar foe in quarterfinal round Thursday

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By Mike Cote

It could be a banner year, quite literally, for the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls soccer team in 2012.
The Hilltoppers are once again among the favorites in Class 4A heading into the state playoffs. The Hilltoppers kick off their state tournament run Thursday morning at the Albuquerque Public Schools Soccer Complex.
Los Alamos, the No. 2 seed in the tournament, will face 10th-seeded Piedra Vista in the quarterfinal round. Game time is 10:45 a.m.
This season, the Hilltoppers (17-3) spent the bulk of their time atop the Class 4A rankings, that according to MaxPreps.com, but lost their No. 1 ranking, for no obvious reason, in the final poll. Albuquerque Academy, which finished No. 1 in that last poll, also earned the No. 1 overall seed.
Thursday’s game will be the second meeting between Los Alamos and Piedra Vista in less than three weeks. The Hilltoppers defeated the Panthers 2-0 Oct. 20 in Farmington.
In that game, Katelyn Leslie picked up a goal for Los Alamos in the first half and Amy Neal scored an insurance goal in the second half.
Neal, of course, was the overall top scorer in Class 4A this season and the No. 4 scorer throughout the entire state. Neal finished the season with 32 goals and 20 assists, the second consecutive year she was the top point-getter in 4A.
She was the focal point of the Hilltoppers’ offense this season, but for most of the year had plenty of support from Catie McDonald, one of the most dangerous young offensive threats in the state.
McDonald, however, ran into a goalpost on a routine scoring play Oct. 7 against Capital. The collision sidelined McDonald for the remainder of the season.
The loss was a big one for the Hilltoppers on the offensive third. Neal will likely draw big defensive crowds throughout the playoffs — interestingly, though, she didn’t garner a whole lot of special attention in Los Alamos’ two previous playoff runs — although veteran Leslie Guarello, along with Meghan McDonald and Julia Haagenstaad, filled in well during the last three weeks of the season.
On the defensive side, Bryce Theesfeld finished as the No. 2-rated goalkeeper in 4A behind Victoria Grano of Academy. Theesfeld, a senior, had a .603 goals-against average this season and was credited with 93 saves, playing 500 minutes more in goal than did Grano.
Piedra Vista (11-10) finished last in the four-team District 1 race this season — all the district’s teams earned spots at state — and nipped seventh-seeded Miyamura 1-0 in Gallup last week, the only upset of the weekend in either the 4A girls or boys playoffs.
The Panthers are among the lowest-scoring teams that qualified for the postseason. They scored 52 goals in 2012 but 22 of those goals came in a four-game stretch to start the season. They scored just four goals in the month of October and were shut out five times in their last eight regular season contests.
Piedra Vista’s offense was led by Erica Briseno, who had 18 goals and 4 assists (40 points) and Madilyn Tanner, who had 11 goals and 9 assists (31 points).
The winner of Thursday’s contest will face another District 1 team, either third-seeded Aztec or sixth-seeded Kirtland Central. Farmington is also still alive on the opposite side of the bracket.