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LA to open state tourney play Friday

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By The Staff

Christmas may have come a little early for the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys soccer team this season.

Not only are the Hilltoppers riding high, going into the Class AAAA state tournament having won four straight and five out of six, not only did the Hilltoppers win a do-or-possibly-die game against the Capital Jaguars in convincing fashion, they drew a favorable pool to start their march toward a state title.

Los Alamos, the sixth seed in the postseason, opens World Play competition Friday when it faces the 11th-seeded Goddard Rockets. That game and Los Alamos' Saturday date with the third-seeded Roswell Coyotes are set for 2 p.m. at Santa Ana Pueblo Farmers Insurance Soccer Complex.

The Hilltoppers (12-8) are optimistic about their chances to get out of Pool C and advance to next week's semifinal round.

"If we play our game, we'll be fine. We'll make it to the semis," Hilltopper head coach Evan Gartz said. "We're on a crash-course to play (Albuquerque) Academy, but I'll worry about that then."

Goddard (5-12) has struggled for the bulk of the season, but particularly in the last five games of the regular season, dropping all of them and scoring just four goals in those five losses while allowing 22 goals in that same stretch.

In the 2007 regular season, the Rockets were shut out six times and gave up four goals or more six times.

The Rockets ended up third in the three-team District 4AAAA, but were given an at-large bid by the New Mexico Activities Association selection committee over the other at-large eligible schools Aztec (10-10), Belen (8-12) and Silver (0-13-1). Los Alamos' District 2AAAA rival Capital (10-7) earned the other at-large pass, and was seeded ninth in the tournament.

Goddard has just one scorer in the top 25 Class AAAA scorers, that being 25th-ranked Marc McIlwain, a senior forward who tallied 10 goals and three assists on the season.

No other Rocket was ranked in the top 40, with junior midfielder Jarred Martin (six goals, five assists) being their next-leading point-getter.

On Saturday, the Hilltoppers will take on Roswell (13-7), the 4AAAA champ in their second pool play contest.

Roswell, contrasted with Goddard, has one of the most prolific scorers in the state in freshman Oscar Vela.

Vela finished the regular season with 34 goals and five assists, putting him just behind Piedra Vista's Pablo Quintana for the Class AAAA scoring title this season.

The Hilltoppers, however, faced Quintana in a nondistrict contest Oct. 5, and shut him and his Panther squad out.

Quintana had few looks in that game, and even fewer good looks, thanks in no small part to the defense led by fullbacks Marcus Cappiello, Mike Jones and goalkeeper Grant Janecky (105 saves, 1.15 goals-allowed average).

Jones said following Saturday's 3-1 win over Capital, which clinched a playoff spot for Los Alamos, that he and his mates were ready to face all comers in the state tournament.

"I'm excited for that," Jones said. "These past few games have really pumped us up. We stepped up as a team. We know what kind of talent we have."

Roswell is one of the youngest teams in the Class AAAA tournament, boasting six other freshmen on its roster besides Vela. Additionally, the Coyotes have four sophomores on their team.

But Roswell is one of the hottest teams in the state right now. The team had won six straight and eight of nine going into its Thursday afternoon pool play game with Goddard, which it had already beaten twice in district by a combined 7-3.

Los Alamos will not only have to be wary of Vela and the Coyote offense - they've scored four goals or better on eight occasions - but will also be facing them following a rest day Friday. Because Los Alamos is a runner-up qualifier, it will have to play back-to-back days.