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LA opens district play at home Wednesday

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By Mike Cote

Jiri Kubicek can’t help but chuckle when he looks at the current standings as the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls soccer team prepares for the opener of its District 2-4A season.
“You look at the teams. We have the worst record,” said Kubicek, the veteran head coach of Los Alamos.
The District 2-4A soccer season officially opens for Los Alamos Wednesday. The Hilltopper boys and girls will face the Bernalillo Spartans in a day-night doubleheader at Sullivan Field. The girls game is scheduled for 4 p.m.
And while it’s true the Hilltopper girls have won just two games this season, there seems to be little reason for them to panic.
Los Alamos has dominated the District 2-4A race since 2006, the year the St. Pius X Sartans left. Since that time, Los Alamos has allowed just one goal during district play, that coming last season against Santa Fe.
The Hilltoppers, despite posting just a 2-7 record so far, will still be the heavy favorites heading in with Santa Fe likely being the only stumbling block they will have to be wary of.
“I think everybody’s OK,” Kubicek said of the team’s tough start to the season. “Everybody knows we have had a tough schedule, but we’re improving. We’re making progress. They should feel good about themselves.”
The boys soccer district race, on the other hand, is considerably more complex.
Los Alamos, Santa Fe and Capital may have to duke it out for the top spot this season. Los Alamos is the reigning 2-4A champ, but wasn’t the favorite to retain its title going into this season.
Now, the situation is much muddier.
Capital’s Jaguars, who before the season were getting some buzz as a possible state title contender in 4A, were found earlier this month to be using as many as three ineligible players in their first four games of the season, all of which they had to forfeit.
The Jaguar players, who were academically ineligible, may not be back before the last few games of the season when grades come out at Capital.
Other than the forfeitures, the Jaguars might be 8-1 on the season, although the Jaguars haven’t played particularly tough competition so far, either before or after the forfeit losses — Capital’s best win came against Class 4A Artesia, a 2-0 shutout, Sept. 6 in Santa Fe.
Today, the Jaguars are scheduled to face a very tough test in Farmington against the Farmington Scorpions.
Los Alamos and Capital have met two years in a row in the Hilltoppers’ regular season finale with the district title on the line. Los Alamos lost a heartbreaker in 2011 on a wild series late in the game that led to the winning Capital goal, then picked up a 2-1 victory in 2012 at Jaguar Field, which secured a tiebreaker for the Hilltoppers and ultimately the district title.
Again in 2013, the Jaguars will be the Hilltoppers’ last regular season opponent. This year, however, the teams will play that finale at Los Alamos.
Los Alamos visits Capital Oct. 5.
It has been tough going of late for Los Alamos, which was 4-2 after six games, but then dropped five straight, albeit all against pretty stiff competition.
Last week, the Hilltoppers suffered a humbling 5-0 defeat at the hands of Albuquerque Academy. Academy was ranked No. 1 in the state by MaxPreps in its last poll — the new rankings, which are posted on Tuesdays, hadn’t been released as of press time — and No. 2 behind Roswell according to this week’s NMSoccer.com coaches poll.
Most recently, Los Alamos lost a 3-1 decision to Class 5A Rio Rancho at home. Brandon Hodges tallied the goal for Los Alamos in that contest.
Offensively, the Hilltoppers’ are led by Collin Stone, who has 8 goals and 4 assists on the season. Eric Schmalz leads the team with 5 assists.
Bernalillo (2-6) has shown the ability to score goals, but also gives up a fair amount of goals, as well. It has allowed 5 or more goals in half of its contests this season.
The Hilltopper girls aren’t likely to have much trouble against Bernalillo Wednesday, either. The Spartans have tallied just one goal all year.
Kubicek said the big challenge for his team this season is to get more consistent on offense. In that case, playing in 2-4A is a mixed blessing, as Los Alamos can often score a lot of goals, but those goals tend to be pretty easy to come by — for example, the Hilltoppers scored 48 goals in the 2012 district season, 10 more than the other three teams combined.
Los Alamos has lost three straight and five of its last six, but Kubicek said his team is putting better effort into its games than it had earlier in the season.
“They’re working like a team, working together and supporting each other,” he said. “The girls are working hard. Our practices are better and better. That’s a good thing to have.”
Sophomore Catie McDonald (10 goals, 4 assists) is by far and away the points leader for the Hilltoppers. Her sister, Meghan McDonald, is second on the team with 10 points, while Sarah Criscuolo has five assists to lead the team.
Los Alamos lost starting goalkeeper Elena Atencio during pregame warm-ups against Rio Rancho last Wednesday.
It is unknown if Atencio, who has a 1.41 goals-against average, will be able to go for Saturday’s game at Santa Fe, which looks to be the Hilltoppers’ toughest district contest.