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There will be at least one major change for the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls soccer team this season, although that change is completely out of its control.
Other than that, however, a big shakeup around the team is unlikely.
The Hilltoppers will open their 2011 campaign Tuesday when they travel to Class 4A opponent Belen.
Los Alamos comes into the season, for the third straight time, as the Class 4A runner-up from the previous year. Should everything go according to plan, Los Alamos should again be on the short list of state title contenders.
“We’ve got great potential, we’ve just got to get our poop in a group,” senior Megan Kober said. “We’ve got to work on our team dynamics. It’s hard to lose six players then replace them with four new ones.”
Despite graduation losses, Los Alamos may need to fill as little as three starting spots.
Most of its 2010 core is returning this season, something that should help the team in the opening weeks.
Hilltopper head coach Jiri Kubicek, the longest-tenured coach at Los Alamos High School, returns for his 20th season of leading the girls soccer program. He said there’s no reason the team shouldn’t be among the top squads in the state.
“We look good,” Kubicek said of his team’s preseason workouts. “Not bad touches. The workshops we did in the summer helped a lot. We still need to get in condition, but that’s a long process.”
The biggest change around the team this season will actually be the field it plays on. Los Alamos High School is revamping Sullivan Field, adding an artificial surface to replace the grass surface it’s had since it opened.
For Los Alamos, that means the pace of play will likely be a lot quicker — balls roll considerably faster on artificial surface than on grass. The upside for Los Alamos is that it has good team speed, but the downside, particularly for the younger players on the team, is that small mistakes made on grass can be amplified on turf.
Kubicek said the new surface should all-in-all be a plus for the team. The state soccer tournament, which for the foreseeable future will be housed at the Albuquerque Public Schools Soccer Complex, is played on artificial surface similar to Sullivan Field’s.
Los Alamos has made arrangements to practice on the field at least once a week — its normal practice field is grass.
“You prepare a little better on artificial surface,” Kubicek said. “On turf, your mistakes can hurt you.”
In 2010, the Hilltoppers were solid in the back and were able to hold their own in the midfield, but offense was sporadic.
Junior Amy Neal was the team’s main scoring threat — she finished fifth overall in Class 4A with 52 points and tied for fifth with 19 goals — but beyond Neal, scoring was often hard to come by. The next-highest point total for Los Alamos last year was Lindsay Benage, who graduated, with 23 points, while its best returner, Stephanie Blair, finished with 17 points.
Kubicek said a good portion of the team’s early contests will have lots of personnel shuffling, partially so he can see what combinations will work upfront.
Defensively, goalkeeper Bryce Theesfeld will anchor the Hilltoppers in the back. The Hilltoppers were among the stingiest defenses in Class 4A in 2010 and Theesfeld was among the stingiest backstops, allowing just .818 goals per contest.
Theesfeld, who injured her ankle in practice but said she’s feeling better and should be close to 100 percent in a few days, thinks as long as the team does the little things, the year should go swimmingly.
“I just want the team to start talking more and more,” she said. “If we pick our heads up, if we move the ball around more, we’ll be fine.”
Belen has been a tough competitor in the past — the two teams met in both the 2002 and 2003 playoffs — but hasn’t attained that level of success for some time. Belen failed to make the playoffs altogether last year.
The usual gang of suspects that is in the mix most years in Class 4A are likely to be back in 2011, including three-time defending champion Albuquerque Academy.
“That’s what I’m most excited for, knowing they lost a lot of players,” Kober said, talking about the contests she’s most anticipating this year.
Academy had some big losses off its 2010 title squad, although that has happened in previous years with the Chargers rarely missing a beat. Academy lost Riah Risk, who victimized Los Alamos in the 2009 state title game, but gets back Caroline Growney, who had a whopping 90 points in 2010, 20 more points than No. 2 point-getter Taylor McGarry of Aztec.
The Chargers have won five state titles since 2001. In every case, the Hilltoppers have been on the short end in the state championship game.
The Hilltoppers have only two playoff victories over the Chargers during that time, in the 2003 Class 4A championship game and the 2006 Class 4A semifinals.
Los Alamos and Academy are scheduled to play Sept. 17 in Los Alamos. The two could also conceivably meet in the Academy Invitational tournament, which starts Sept. 8 — the bracket of that tournament hasn’t yet been released.
The 2011 schedule for the Hilltoppers is nearly identical to their 2010 slate. Following their season opener at Belen and their home opener against Moriarty, which has struggled for a few seasons but has given the Hilltoppers trouble in the past, they will host Farmington Aug. 27, their first big test against Class 4A competition.
District 2-4A play starts Sept. 20. Los Alamos, which hasn’t lost a district contest since 2005, is expected to breeze to its sixth straight district title again this season.
Head coach: Jiri Kubicek (20th year)
Assistant coaches: Paul Criscuolo
* District 2-4A game
Aug. 23: at Belen, 4 p.m.
Aug. 25: vs. Moriarty, 6 p.m.
Aug. 27: vs. Farmington, 4 p.m.
Sept. 1: at Rio Rancho, 4 p.m.
Sept. 8-10: at Albuquerque Academy Invite, TBA.
Sept. 13: vs. La Cueva, 6 p.m.
Sept. 15: vs. Rio Rancho, 6 p.m.
Sept. 17: vs. Academy, 1 p.m.
Sept. 20: vs. Bernalillo, 6 p.m.*
Sept. 22: at Eldorado, 4:30 p.m.
Sept. 24: at Santa Fe, 11 a.m.*
Oct. 1: vs. Capital, 11 a.m.*
Oct. 7: at St. Pius X, 4:30 p.m.
Oct. 8: at Bernalillo, 11 a.m.*
Oct. 11: vs. Santa Fe, 6 p.m.*
Oct. 18: at Capital, 6 p.m.*
Oct. 20: at St. Michael’s, 4 p.m.
Oct. 22: at Aztec, 4 p.m.