LA boys, girls open state playoffs at home

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By Mike Cote

The Class 4A boys and girls soccer playoffs are this weekend for the teams left standing around the state.
For Los Alamos, both the Hilltopper boys and girls will be in action Saturday. And while the Hilltopper teams are both No. 6 seeds facing off against No. 11 seeds, the scenarios are quite different.
Los Alamos’ boys will take on Centennial, a school that’s only been open for just over a year, while Los Alamos’ girls will meet Piedra Vista. Saturday’s boys game is scheduled for 11 a.m. and the girls will play at 1 p.m. at Sullivan Field.
Los Alamos’ boys could have a test on their hands against the upstart Centennial Hawks. The Hawks, a team comprised mostly of underclassmen, has been one of the surprises in 4A this season.
Centennial, which is located in Las Cruces, put together a nice season, going 13-7 and was involved in a three-way tie at the top of the District 3 standings. However, Centennial finished third in the tiebreaker and, as such, dropped down to the No. 11 seed.
Hilltopper head coach Evan Gartz was quick to note, however, that in the final MaxPreps.com rankings, the Hawks were rated one place better than the Hilltoppers.
“They had some good wins this year,” Gartz said. “They’re a sophomore-laden team, so that means they’re getting better and better. We think it’s going to be a tough match.”
Centennial isn’t exactly a high-powered offense, scoring just 47 total goals on the season. However, its defense allowed just 30 goals in 20 games and recorded three shutouts.
Goalkeeper Luis Rodriguez, one of the 11 sophomores on the Hawks’ roster, posted a goals-against average of 1.59 in 16 appearances this year, along with recording 70 saves.
Offensively, the Hawks’ top performer during the regular season was sophomore Luis Cazares. Cazares finished with 19 goals — seventh-best total in 4A — but, interestingly, wasn’t credited with an assist, although that could be because Centennial’s stat-keeping appears to be spotty at best.
Sophomore Alejandro Martinez had the next-best goal total for the Hawks with 9.
For Los Alamos, it finished the season with a mark of 10-10.
Los Alamos had a bit of an up-and-down season in 2013. It won three of its last four contests, including a big 2-1 victory over then-third ranked Capital in the season finale, but was thumped by Piedra Vista 4-0 three days earlier.
The Hilltoppers are led by senior Collin Stone. Stone had a big year for the Hilltoppers up top, collecting 18 goals and 6 assists, placing him in the top 10 among 4A point-producers.
For Los Alamos’ girls, the Hilltoppers should head into Saturday’s game with a world of confidence. They’re about as healthy as they’ve been all season, they’re on a solid winning streak and, most importantly, they whacked Piedra Vista just two weeks ago.
That’s a lot of good things happening for Los Alamos, but in the state playoffs, it doesn’t pay to take chances.
“The playoffs are totally different than the regular season,” Los Alamos head coach Jiri Kubicek said. “You’d better play well or you’re done for the season.”
Kubicek he wasn’t anticipating the kind of game out of Piedra Vista that he and his team saw Oct. 19.
In that game, Hilltopper Catie McDonald scored twice and had two assists to lead Los Alamos to a 4-0 drubbing of the Panthers.
The Panthers, coming out of the very tough District 1, finished third in that race behind Farmington and Aztec, the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds in the state tournament.
Interestingly, Los Alamos could theoretically meet all three teams during the playoffs this season. Los Alamos wouldn’t meet its two regular semifinal counterparts, St. Pius X or Albuquerque Academy, until the championship.
Since 2000, Los Alamos, St. Pius and Academy have all gotten at least to the semifinals and until last year, two of those three have met for the state title — Aztec defeated the Hilltoppers in the semifinals last season, becoming the first interloper to make the 4A championship game since the classifications were realigned.
Heading into Saturday’s game, the Hilltoppers (10-10) are on a six-game winning streak, five of those by shutout and four of those by four goal margins or more.
Hilltopper goalkeeper Elena Atencio (.908 goals-against average) said she’s seen some very good things from the defense since coming back from an ankle injury suffered in early October.
“I think they’ve really gotten it together,” Atenico said after Los Alamos’ shutout win over St. Michael’s to close out the season. “We were going through a tough time finding who goes where. It’s nice they’ve really gotten it together.”
Piedra Vista’s attack is led by Jenna Brown, a junior, who earned 10 goals and 8 assists on the year.
Piedra Vista (9-11) didn’t put up big offensive numbers this season, either. It managed just 44 goals, 35 goals taking away a 9-0 win over hapless Santa Fe Indian School in August.
The Panthers lost four straight games, including the shutout at Los Alamos, to close out the season.