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LA feeling optimistic as it heads into the 2014 opener

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Boys soccer > ’Toppers will be at home for Bosque, Cernicek Invite

By Mike Cote

It’s going to be a trial by fire at the top of the season for the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys soccer team.
But the Hilltoppers are hoping that will light the spark for bigger and better things down the road.
Los Alamos has some key returners coming back in some key spots and, with an extra year of experience under their belts, they feel they have a chance to make a run in Class 5A this season.
Los Alamos opens its season with a tough game, taking on the Bosque School Bobcats at home Tuesday. That will be followed up later this week by the Louie Cernicek Invitational, which almost invariably features some solid competition.
For the Hilltoppers, the pieces may be there for a very productive season. The key will be getting and staying on the same page as quickly as possible.
Los Alamos veteran goalkeeper Chris Parker, the hero of his team’s upset win over Farmington last season, knows to get there, the Hilltoppers will have to keep their mental focus.
“We should do fine everywhere, it’s really just how hard we work,” he said. “As long as everyone’s trying their best and not giving up when they get beat, we should do fine.”
Despite some big losses to graduation off last season’s team, there is plenty of experience coming back.
The Hilltoppers had an up-and-down season in 2013, but came up big when the stakes were highest. They dropped a critical district contest to the Capital Jaguars, one that would ultimately cost them the district title, but from there on out reeled off an impressive string of victories, ultimately putting them into the Class 4A semifinal.
The Hilltoppers lost a heartbreaker in the semifinal to Roswell, a team that walloped them earlier in the season, by a 1-0 count on a goal with just seconds to play in regulation.
Los Alamos finished 12-11 in 2013.
Heading into the opener, Los Alamos feels good about its play both in the back and in the midfield — the Hilltoppers are very deep in the midfield with more than half the roster listed as at least a part-time midfielder.
The midfield wasn’t Los Alamos’ strongest area last season but Hilltopper veteran head coach Evan Gartz thinks that will be where his squad shines in 2014.
“We’ve got all our midfield back from last year, which is good,” Gartz said. “They know we can’t be a one-trick pony like we were last year with Collin (Stone) up top. That’s not a good offense. But we knew that. We knew we were really raw in the midfield…this year that’s our focus. I think we have one of the strongest midfields in the state. That’s what we feel wins championships.”
Controlling possession, one of Gartz’s big areas of focus, has already been better in the team’s preseason workouts than it was all of 2013. In fact, 2013 was one of the rare years a midfielder didn’t lead Los Alamos in total points.
Getting the starting nod at center-mid this year will be junior Alex Csanadi, who knows his teammates will be looking hard at the midfield to get things accomplished.
“I’m a little bit nervous because of the pressure,” he said. “But I think we have a really good team and I have a lot of support…We have a lot of players that can play midfield in case we get injuries. Our starting lineup, they’re all really good, solid guys. We’re used to being quick. We don’t hold on to the ball and we get it circulated through pretty nicely.”
It will be key for the Hilltoppers to do a better job of controlling the ball, and especially limiting turnovers in the midfield area and Csanadi said they feel very confident that those won’t be an issue.
That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of fine-tuning that needs to be done before the start of the District 2-5A season in late September.
“Individual skills are going to need some work,” senior Matthew Ticknor said. “We’ve got stuff like 1-on-1 defense, that’s going to be big for us. We’re always going to work on that. Our ability to maintain possession and remain calm with the ball, just play our game, that will be a big thing for our team.”
Bosque, which is very often among the top schools in the state, regardless of classification, had its season opener Friday, blasting the Piedra Vista Panthers 5-0 in Albuquerque.
Last season, the Bobcats went 19-4 and advanced to the state championship game before falling to Sandia Prep. The Bobcats topped Los Alamos 2-1 in their meeting a year ago.
Following the game with Bosque, Los Alamos will face another solid smaller school, Santa Fe Prep, in the opener of the Louie Cernicek Invitational. The Cernicek tournament is set for Friday and Saturday.
On the offensive third, Los Alamos hasn’t finished goals the way it would like this preseason, although that hasn’t been a big focus so far — the Hilltoppers have concentrated on getting the other two-thirds of the field solidified before they turned an eye to the top.
Stone, who graduated last season, had nearly half of the team’s goals on the year. The top returning scorer is midfielder Eric Schmalz, who had 16 points and led Los Alamos with 8 assists.
“There’s still a lack of a cool head,” Schmalz said. “We aren’t fully game-ready to start the season, but once the goals start coming, you get that confidence and people feel better.”
Los Alamos was actually outscored last season by a 52-43 margin.