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The Los Alamos Hilltopper girls soccer team’s seniors were challenged to respond following a disappointing showing last weekend.
On Thursday, they did.
The Hilltoppers came up big against an elite opponent Thursday in the first round of the Albuquerque Academy Invitational Tournament. The Hilltoppers downed the Las Cruces Bulldawgs to advance to today’s tournament semifinal round, 3-1.
Saturday, Los Alamos was trounced in all phases of the game, taking a big 4-0 loss against St. Pius X. A win in that game might have established Los Alamos as the team to beat in Class 4A this season, but head coach Jiri Kubicek said the effort wasn’t there.
“I think we looked at that game when St. Pius lost a couple of days earlier to Bosque, a team we beat 3-0, and we thought it was going to be an easy game,” Kubicek said. “But it doesn’t go that way. This was a totally different effort, a team effort. We had some nice chances. I’m happy with the win.”
Los Alamos (4-1) advanced to today’s play to take on the Sandia Prep Sundevils. The Sundevils, a Class A-3A team, pulled off a notable upset of its own Thursday, topping the Class 5A Cleveland Storm.
The winner of today’s game – results weren’t known as of press time – will play in Saturday’s championship game at 8 a.m.
Los Alamos’ top player, Amy Neal, once again came up big on a big stage. Neal, who will attend the University of Tennessee next year, scored the first goal of the game in the 19th minute, then earned assists on the Hilltoppers’ other two goals.
Only about a minute after Neal’s goal, Los Alamos’ dynamic freshman, Catie McDonald, tallied to up the Hilltoppers’ advantage to 2-0.
Las Cruces, which was the No. 1-ranked team in the state heading into the tournament, got a late first half goal to get back in the ballgame, but Los Alamos struck again just seconds into the second half. Julia Haagenstaad earned the goal, aided by Neal and Laura Wendelberger.
Wendelberger, along with Stephanie Blair, Cassidy Reeves and Chandler Art had big performances in the Hilltoppers’ defensive third Thursday – the lone goal tallied by the Bulldawgs came on a mishandled bounce – which was charged with keeping the high-powered Las Cruces offense away from the net.
Kubicek said he thought there was a lack of senior leadership in the St. Pius loss, but that the seniors collectively picked up their games against Las Cruces.
“They were a lot more physical, they took charge,” he said. “We needed them to step up.”
Kubicek said he feels more confident in his starting lineup now and thinks things will continue to progress.
Following this tournament, Los Alamos will take on another big 4A challenger, defending champion Academy.