´Toppers blank top-ranked Chargers Saturday

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Girls soccer: Neal scores twice, has an assist as LA rolls to big win

By Mike Cote

A hot start to the 2011 season had some whispering that this could be the year for the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls soccer team to knock off the Albuquerque Academy Chargers.
Those whispers could get considerably louder now.
The Hilltoppers, who didn’t have the greatest week coming into Saturday’s contest, losing two straight to a pair of quality opponents, picked up a huge win over their arch-rival Chargers. Forward Amy Neal scored goals in both halves and Katie Hemphill scored near the midpoint of the first half as the Hilltoppers shut out the Chargers, 3-0.
Academy went into Saturday’s contest at Sullivan Field as the No. 1 ranked team in the state. It is also the three-time defending Class 4A champions, victimizing Los Alamos in each of the last three state championship games.
Saturday’s victory was the second of the season for the Hilltoppers over the Chargers — they also faced off a week earlier, with Los Alamos taking a 2-1 overtime victory.
“It feels really good. We know we can beat them,” said Neal, who earned an assist on Hemphill’s 17-minute goal, which put Los Alamos up 2-0. “We’re better than them when we try to be.”
Neal, who right now is by far and away the leading point-producer in Class 4A, was a menace for Academy’s defense all afternoon, particularly goalkeeper Natalie DuBoise, listed as a forward on the Chargers’ roster but called into service between the posts when two other Charger keepers, Victoria Grano and Michaela Supple, were unavailable.
Despite the score, it was actually Academy that controlled the action much of the way, particularly in the first half, which was played mostly on the Hilltoppers’ side of the field.
Caroline Growney and Zoe Jerome both manufactured chances against the Hilltopper defensive third, but the majority of Academy’s shots were low-quality looks. Almost all of Academy’s shots-on-goal were within easy reach of Los Alamos goalkeeper Bryce Theesfeld.
Stephanie Blair anchored the middle of the Hilltoppers’ defensive third and had an outstanding game even with the Chargers being able to push toward Los Alamos’ goal. Blair said there was never a sense of panic in the back.
“I don’t think anyone was worried,” she said. “We know how good of a team we are. We could come back from whatever they were doing.”
Cassidy Reeves, Chandler Art and Megan Kober were also able to collapse and help thwart the Chargers’ attack. The Chargers finished with 18 shots Saturday, but only six of those were on-goal.
On the other end, Neal broke the scoreless tie 10 minutes in off an assist from Leslie Guarello. Guarello found Neal on a dead sprint to the Chargers’ goal mouth and Neal beat DuBoise 1-on-1 to put the Hilltoppers up.
Neal connected with Hemphill about seven minutes later to give the Hilltoppers a 2-0 edge. Hemphill’s goal seemed to stun the Chargers, who had controlled most of the action up to that point.
Los Alamos (7-3) has actually had decent success against Academy (4-5-1) in recent years during the season, but that hasn’t translated into success in the playoffs, something Los Alamos head coach Jiri Kubicek is well aware of.
“(The Chargers) are going to get some of their players back either Monday or Tuesday, so we were getting a different look. We’ve still have St. Pius X and Eldorado, then our district. It’s a good statement, but we don’t want to get overconfident.”