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During the 2012 preseason, the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls soccer team has been focused on its conditioning.
And with the team projected to have a short bench this season, the Hilltoppers will likely need that extra work.
Los Alamos opens the season up Saturday when it goes on the road to face Farmington for a scheduled noon kickoff.
The Hilltoppers have high hopes for the 2012 season and they have good reason to. The majority of their roster is returning following a successful 2011 season in which they advanced to the Class 4A semifinals.
Nevertheless, one big obstacle still remains: getting by Albuquerque Academy. But heading into the regular season, Los Alamos likes the hand it’s been dealt.
“I think it’s really good,” Hilltopper star forward Amy Neal said just days before she starts her senior season campaign, trying to grab that state title that has so far eluded her. “We’ve got a ton of good players on this team...I think our team will mix really well and we’ll be able to get that team goal.”
Neal, the single most dangerous offensive weapon in the state, will lead the Hilltoppers’ charge for a return trip to the state championship game. The Hilltoppers had reached the state title game for three straight years, but fell to one of its two main rivals, Academy, in the 2011 state semifinals.
Since Academy, Los Alamos and St. Pius X were aligned into Class 4A together in 2000, they have comprised three-fourths of the state tournament’s final four and two of the three have advanced to the title game.
Los Alamos last won the state championship in 2003, but now, nine seasons later, the Hilltoppers appear to be as well positioned as anyone in 4A to make a serious title run.
The Hilltoppers have nine returning starters from last season’s roster, including Neal upfront and defensive anchors Cassidy Reeves and Bryce Theesfeld in the back.
One of the big questions on offense is whether Los Alamos can once again find support for Neal. That was a question the team had heading into 2011, but then-senior Naomi Movshovich stepped into that role nicely.
This year, Los Alamos will ask Leslie Guarello to move into the role. Guarello struggled with injuries last year, although she still played well enough to be picked for the Class 4A All-State first team, and has looked good during this preseason.
Los Alamos, as usual, will play one of the toughest nondistrict schedules in the state, if not the toughest. After opening with Farmington, which has built and maintained a solid program for much of the recent past, Los Alamos will have dates with both St. Pius (Sept. 8) and Academy (Sept. 18), as well as make its regular appearance at Academy’s Invitational. Later this season it will face Volcano Vista and La Cueva, two very good Class 5A teams.
Hilltopper head coach Jiri Kubicek, one of the longest-tenured coaches in the state, said his team will mainly be focused on doing what it needs to do for the first several weeks.
“I’d like to see that we don’t make too many mistakes, work the ball and show some good combinations,” he said.
Los Alamos had a preseason scrimmage game last week against St. Michael’s. The team moved the ball down the field well in that game and created plenty of opportunities, but also had some mental and communication breakdowns, leading to a couple of St. Mike’s goals.
With a senior-heavy team, though, Kubicek said his team should be mature enough and experienced enough to pull things together by Saturday.
The Hilltoppers’ experience will be important this year for several reasons, not the least of which is that the team is carrying just 16 players on its roster. Kubicek said that while he’s got quality talent, the participation numbers were thinner than normal and he only has about 30 players at the sub-varsity level right now.
Los Alamos has also had a few players get hurt during the preseason, potentially making the bench that much shorter heading to Farmington.
Veteran Cassidy Reeves, who had a big season in the back in 2011, isn’t too worried about the heavy minutes the team might be logging in 2012.
“I think we’re fairly close (to game shape),” said Reeves, who was named to the All-4A second team last season. “We were a little slower than we’d like versus St. Michael’s. We’re doing more conditioning this week. Everything’s a little rusty to start off, but hopefully it’ll come back quick.”
Los Alamos finished 18-5 in 2011 and won its sixth consecutive District 2-4A title. It hasn’t lost a district game during that streak and isn’t expected to get much of a run for its district money this season.
Last year, Los Alamos finished 11-2 against 4A teams – losing to St. Pius in the regular season and Academy in the playoffs – and has a chance to improve on that mark and make another deep run in the postseason.
“If we’re healthy, it’ll work out,” Kubicek said. “At this moment, we’re not doing much with our tactical (play), but after the first couple of games, hopefully we’ll get that in order.”
Jiri Kubicek (21st year)
Allison Rooney, D/MF
Bryce Theesfeld, GK
Cassidy Reeves, D/MF
Christina Moore, MF/D
Jordan Ahlers, D/MF
Laura Wendelberger, MF/D
Kaitlin Leslie, MF/D
Amy Neal, F/MF
Leslie Guarello, MF/F
Meghan McDonald, MF/D
Elizabeth Haagenstad, MF/D
Chandler Art, D/F
Elena Atencio, MF/D
Stephanie Blair, D/MF
Kristen Funsten, MF/D
Catie McDonald, F/MF
(*: District 2-4A game)
Aug. 25: at Farmington, noon.
Aug. 28: vs. Bosque School, 4 p.m.
Aug. 30: at Moriarty, 3 p.m.
Sept. 8: vs. St. Pius X, 4 p.m.
Sept. 13: vs. Las Cruces at Academy Invite, 2:30 p.m.
Sept. 14-15: at Academy Invite, TBA.
Sept. 18: at Albuquerque Academy, 4:30 p.m.
Sept. 19: vs. Rio Rancho, 6 p.m.
Sept. 25: at Bernalillo, 6 p.m.*
Sept. 29: vs. Santa Fe, 1 p.m.*
Oct. 2: at Volcano Vista, 3 p.m.
Oct. 4: vs. La Cueva, 6 p.m.
Oct. 6: vs. Capital, 6 p.m.*
Oct. 13: vs. Bernalillo, 11 a.m.*
Oct. 16: at Santa Fe, 4 p.m.*
Oct. 20: at Piedra Vista, 4 p.m.
Oct. 23: at Capital, 4 p.m.*
Oct. 25: vs. St. Michael's, 6 p.m.