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ALBUQUERQUE — In the first round of the Albuquerque Academy Invitational, the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls soccer team’s defense was put to the test.
It passed with flying colors.
The Hilltoppers were forced to turn away constant pressure from the Cleveland Storm Thursday, but they were up to the challenge, holding the Storm to just one goal through regulation and two overtime periods.
Then, with the contest heading into a shootout, Los Alamos goalkeeper Bryce Theesfeld came up with two big stops. Los Alamos converted four of its five chances to take a 2-1 victory over Cleveland and advance to the semifinals of the Academy Invitational.
It was a physical, bruising contest throughout for the smaller Hilltoppers, but they managed to keep their marks up against Cleveland’s star forward Julissa Hunt.
“They definitely pushed us around, but we definitely motivated each other to keep working,” said Los Alamos midfielder Cassidy Reeves, who not only found herself sprinting back to the defensive third of the field on numerous occasions but also converted the winning penalty kick.
Los Alamos actually trailed 1-0 in the shootout, but after Emily Funsten’s initial attempt sailed high, converted four straight attempts.
Most of the Storm’s squad, however, was tired and frustrated from the lack of offensive production heading into the shootout. The Storm shooters appeared to get even more agitated when Theesfeld got her hand on Lucy Chalgren’s shot attempt to her right and knocked it just wide of the left post.
Along with the two stops in the shootout, Theesfeld finished the contest with nine saves and several other big defensive grabs to thwart the Storm’s forwards.
“She’s a good goalie,” said Los Alamos head coach Jiri Kubicek. “We still need to work on a few things but she kept us in this game.”
Cleveland controlled the bulk of the action in the contest, particularly in the first half which was played predominantly on the Los Alamos side of the field. Clevleand, which was ranked sixth in last week’s Class 5A coaches’ poll, set itself up with numerous good looks in the first half, getting off eight shots, six of which had to be grabbed by Theesfeld.
Despite several chances for the Storm, the game still remained scoreless until midway through the second half.
Stephanie Blair crushed a direct kick attempt between the defenders in a two-man wall from 25 yards out and put the ball just inside the right goalpost out of the reach of Cleveland goalkeeper Xan Ortiz, to give the Hilltoppers a 1-0 edge.
After Blair’s 57th minute goal, however, it didn’t take long for the Storm to answer back.
Hunt, who had a relatively quiet game up to that point, split a pair of Los Alamos fullbacks with some nifty dribbling in the center of the field and sent a short diagonal pass to C17 crashing down just left of the goal. Katrina Pacheco 1-touched the ball into the net to tie the game at the 62-minute mark.
Both teams made offensive pushes late in regulation, but neither got much going on the offensive third in either of the two overtime periods.
Blair, Kaitlin Leslie and Amy Neal all converted their shootout kicks before Reeves finished off the contest by going into the top left corner of the goal.
“I didn’t realize my PK was for the win or the not-win,” Reeves said. “But my team is behind me. I had confidence walking up there and putting it into the net. That felt good.”
Los Alamos and Cleveland met in the opener of the Academy tournament in 2010 as well, with Cleveland taking a 2-0 victory.