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Despite a long layoff, the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys soccer team feels primed and ready to go.
The Hilltoppers, the No. 3 seed, will open the Class 4A state playoffs Thursday afternoon at the Albuquerque Public Schools Soccer Complex. Their quarterfinal match-up against the sixth-seeded Los Lunas Tigers.
Los Alamos will have to contend with a big offensive presence for Los Lunas, however.
The Tiger attack is spearheaded by sophomore Alejandro Garcia. Garcia was far and away the top point-scorer in Class 4A for 2012 with 86 (38 goals, 10 assists), nearly 30 points better than the next best scorer in the state.
“I watched him play, he’s good,” Gartz said. “He’s good in the air and he’s got a good left shot. We have to stand him up as much as possible.”
Also for the Tigers, Said Aguilera had 10 goals and 11 assists (31 total points).
Los Lunas (15-6) went a healthy 9-1 in District 6 this year – the largest district in 4A – to beat out state qualifier Miyamura for the district title, but was unremarkable outside district play. It lost a 1-0 decision early on this season to Santa Fe, which Los Alamos swept in two games by a combined score of 8-2.
However, the Tigers did finish the season better than they started. They were at .500 following the loss to Santa Fe Sept. 14, but went 11-2 the rest of they way, including a playoff opening round win over the Santa Teresa Warriors.
For the Hilltoppers, Thursday’s game will be their first since their District 2-clinching victory over the Capital Jaguars Oct. 23, a layoff that Gartz said might not be to his team’s advantage.
Los Alamos closed out the regular season winning five of six contests, including a tune-up contest against Piedra Vista four days before its 2-1 victory over Capital to reclaim the district title it lost to the Jaguars in 2011.
In 2012, Los Alamos was paced by Henry Steinkamp. Steinkamp, a midfielder who makes the Hilltoppers’ engine run, collected 38 total points (12 goals, 14 assists), two points better than Ryan Maestas (14 goals, 8 assists).
The Hilltoppers had to shuffle personnel around after a foot injury to Dallin Parker, but junior Collin Stone has been solid in Parker’s absence, finishing with 8 goals.
On the offensive side, Gartz said he wants his team to come at the Tigers from different angles — Los Lunas has a solid defense up the middle.
“I think we’re bigger than they are and I think we’re faster,” Gartz said. “We have to play to our outside midfielders as much as we can. We want to avoid being too predictable.”
Los Alamos won the 2010 Class 4A championship at the APS Soccer Complex but was knocked out in the first round of the 2011 tournament — Steinkamp was injured in the 2011 season finale and wasn’t available for that game against Piedra Vista.
This season, the Hilltoppers like their chances to make a deep run in the playoffs.
“Right now, there’s nothing else I can coach them,” Gartz said. “They’re so familiar with each other. Now, we have to get out there on the field…I’m confident and the guys are really confident as well. We hope to do some damage.”