High-Scoring Hilltopper

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Soccer: Neal leads Los Alamos girls to state playoffs

By Mike Cote

It wasn’t even close.

She’s one of the most prolific scorers in Los Alamos Hilltopper girls soccer history and she still has a full playoff slate and another year to go.

Hilltopper junior Amy Neal ran away with the Class 4A scoring title this season. During the regular season, Neal piled up 33 goals — more than all but three prep players in the state at any level — and had 19 assists, second among 4A players.

The stats are impressive, but Neal doesn’t consider herself different than any other player on her team. When asked what she felt her role with the Hilltoppers was, she was puzzled.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I’m part of the team. We all make one team and we all add our own little things. Each and everyone one of us makes this team.”

While it’s true Los Alamos gelled into a cohesive unit in a relatively short period of time over the regular season and its impressive 17-4 record is a testament to that, the team dynamic would’ve been considerably different without Neal.

Neal’s 85 points easily outdistanced Albuquerque Academy’s Caroline Growney and Aztec’s Jessica Kresl, who both finished with 59 total points. Neal’s closest teammate to her total was Naomi Movshovich, who had 32 points.

However, Neal’s dominance does have a downside, as Hilltopper head coach Jiri Kubicek points out. More than once, he’s seen his team get too dependent on her. Avoiding one-dimensionality is something the Hilltoppers will have to contend with at state.

“Amy needs to get support,” Kubicek said. “At state, we’re going to see pushing and physical play. If we can’t match up with that, we’ll have problems.”

Neal is the third soccer player coming out of her family with potential to play in college. Brother Avery Neal had a solid career at Oregon’s Pacific University — he’s now a Hilltopper boys assistant coach — and sister Kelsey Neal, a bruising midfielder and four-year starter for Los Alamos, currently plays at Colorado School of Mines.

Do Avery and Kelsey like to pile the pressure on Amy?

“Of course,” Amy Neal said. “They’re both great soccer players. That pushes me more, trying to keep up with them, and they’re trying to help me succeed.”

Neal, who had a solid sophomore season last year, had a coming-out party of sorts during the 2010 playoffs. The Hilltoppers struggled offensively heading into the playoffs, but Neal caught fire from the start.

She popped in three goals in a 6-0 victory over Kirtland Central to open the 4A playoffs, scored twice against a stingy Aztec defense in the quarterfinals and scored a goal and picked up an assist in the semifinals against Farmington — Los Alamos was shut out in those teams’ regular season meeting.

Neal’s blazing speed creates matchup problems for most 4A defenses. She’s equally effective attacking right down the middle of the field as she is coming off the edges.

It’s her attacking ability that has already garnered the attention of some collegiate programs. She took a trip to New Mexico State University earlier this season and may go up to Montana before the beginning of next season.

So far in 2011, Neal has garnered District 2-4A’s Offensive Player of the Year, the second such honor of her career. Last year, Neal was a second-team All-State selection.

This season, Neal should be in line for a first-team selection and may even be considered for the top 4A player of the year.

The 2011 postseason for the Hilltoppers starts Thursday. Los Alamos could potentially play its old rivals Albuquerque Academy, which defeated Los Alamos three straight years in the finals, and St. Pius X on back-to-back days.

Los Alamos had last week off from postseason play, but Neal said she and the rest of her team has been chomping at the bit.

“We’re nervous, but we’re really excited,” Neal said. “We’re ready to go out like we mean it.”