Atomic City Update: Rivalry with Albuquerque Academy is good for LAHS

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By Phil Scherer

A good rivalry can make any sport more exciting. Baseball has the Red Sox and the Yankees. Football has the Packers and the Bears. Basketball has the Lakers and the Celtics. In New Mexico high school sports, one of the best rivalries is between Los Alamos and Albuquerque Academy. Last week, the rivalry was back in the spotlight and it delivered the type of heart-stopping action that fans of both teams have come to expect over the last few years. 

Every fall, this rivalry comes back to the front of everyone’s mind, as the two schools battle for state championships in soccer and cross country. More often than not, it comes down to a head-to-head matchup to determine state supremacy. 

That’s how it was again this year, as Academy took home both soccer state championships and the girls’ cross country title, and the Hilltoppers took home the championship in boys’ cross country. 

Over the past few years, Academy has had the upper hand, keeping LAHS away from state championships in both sports in 2016 and 2017. In fact, if it feels like Hilltopper soccer seasons almost always end at the hands of the Chargers, you are right. 

In the four years since Ron Blue took over the Hilltopper boys’ program, Academy is the only team to defeat LAHS in the state tournament. The defeat came in the finals in 2015 and this year, while 2016 and 2017 ended in the semifinals. 

Over the last five seasons, the Hilltopper girls have lost to Academy three times, this year in the semifinals, last year in the finals and in the 2014 quarterfinals. 

And the most frustrating thing from LAHS’ perspective is that so many of these games are heartbreakers, especially for the girls. 

This year’s semifinal match against the Chargers went all the way to double overtime tied at 1-1. Just 25 seconds away from a winner-take-all shootout, Academy’s top player Eliza Mariner broke away from the Hilltopper defense and scored. It was shocking to witness in the moment. 

Last year, LAHS and Academy were scoreless for more than an hour in the state championship game. 

Then, Gabby Sanchez, a girls who did not score a single goal the rest of the season, wins the game for Academy with a goal in the 67th minute. 

In the boys’ semifinals last year, LAHS had the lead late in the first half before allowing Academy to win the game in the second half. 

These aren’t just losses, these are losses that cause a player or coach to lose sleep at night, as they wonder what they have to do to get past their archrivals. 

After having a similar story for a couple years, the boys’ cross country team was able to get a little revenge last weekend, defeating Academy by seven points to earn the state championship. It was a great moment of redemption for LAHS after finishing in third place each of the last two years at the state meet. 

Of course, Academy followed that up later in the day by narrowly defeating the Hilltopper girls for the championship, but LAHS will gladly take a blue trophy any time they can get one. 

The rivalry between the two schools had been even more intense in 2016 and 2017, as the Hilltoppers and Chargers were in the same district, battling not only for state supremacy but also district glory. I’m sure neither team was upset to be separated when the new districts were announced for this school year. 

Even though Academy has been the bully on the playground for LAHS for so many years, the rivalry is good for the Hilltoppers in so many ways. It shows the players how good they need to be to earn the top prize, and gives everyone a target to shoot for. 

And just think, when the Hilltoppers finally do take down Academy in every sport, it will mean so much to everyone. They are so close, and I think the reign of supremacy could come to an end any time now.