Pursuit to state begins Tuesday for LAHS boy's soccer

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By Jose Corral

The Los Alamos boy’s soccer program always goes into a season as state title contenders, but this season the target on the Hilltoppers’ back might be bigger after last year’s state championship appearance.
Los Alamos plans to rely on its experience and a vigorous schedule to match last season’s success. The last time the Hilltoppers lost in a state championship, they regrouped the following season and claimed the program’s latest state championship (2009, 2010).
The road to redemption begins 6 p.m. Tuesday as the Hilltoppers host defending Class 4A state champion Bosque School at Sullivan Field.  
“Los Alamos always tends to have a tradition of being a pretty solid program and always has a mark on there back. So a lot of teams look at Los Alamos as a good bench mark,” said Ron Blue, who’s entering his third season as the Hilltoppers’ head coach. “Obviously this year will be a bit different. Coming in, I think we’re putting some pressure on ourselves.”
“We believe that we have a team that can be very good. So we’re going to try to go and play and win as many games as possible.”
Despite losing players like Eric Burnside, one of the state’s best players the last three years, Los Alamos remains one of Class 5A’s talented groups. With good energy up front, tactical talent in the midfield, great speed out wide and familiarity on defense, the Hilltoppers’ expect nothing but success.  
“We’re definitely a more experienced team,” Blue said. “We feel that we have the talent to be able to move the ball on people. We’re definitely going to look to play with possession and try to take our chances. We believe we can use our wings and hold the midfield very well. But if we need to adjust ourselves to be more successful then that’s what we’ll do.”
Los Alamos lost last season’s Class 5A championship to Albuquerque Academy. Now, Academy is joining District 2-5A and will be a top contender to dethrone the Hilltoppers. Capital, who won a state title two years ago, appears to also be a district contender.  
“Our district is going to be just amazing. It’s going to be so difficult to find wins. The competition is going to be really outstanding,” Blue said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing how we can against these teams. Academy is the cream of the crop right now and it’s always difficult to beat Capital in Santa Fe. But it’s going to be exciting.”
Los Alamos returns key figures from last year’s squad and those players will be vital for the Hilltoppers’ success. The mixture of returnees and the new pieces that Blue has added can create exceptional depth for Los Alamos.
The Hilltoppers return first team all-state senior goalkeeper Seth Hailey and first team all-state senior forward/midfielder George Steinkamp. Levon Wiggins, who was a first team all-district and all-state honorable mention selection, will return for his junior season.  
“We’re a good 15 deep of guys who can just straight out play,” Blue said. “Our goalkeeper Seth Hailey is arguably the best goalkeeper in that state and he’s going to be huge for us. George Steinkamp has just reached a point where he has no idea how good he really is and that’s very exciting. He has the potential to be one of the best players in the state.”   
Besides Hailey, the Hilltoppers return three returners on defense. That experience in the backline can propel Los Alamos as one of the top defensive teams in the state.  
“In the back we return three guys who are going to be big for us. If things go well, we’re going to be a difficult team to score on,” Blue said.  
Like every team, the Hilltoppers have incorporated new pieces into their roster. Although Blue doesn’t plan on rely on his team’s youth, it can help Los Alamos in the ladder stages of the season with injuries and fatigue levels.    
“We’ve got some young guys that are coming in and look good. Guys that got serious time last year have taken in to the next level,” Blue said. “Some of the young guys aren’t going to be major factors yet. But it’s nice to know that we’ve got them.”
According to Blue, staying healthy will be key for the Hilltoppers’ chances of returning to the state championship. Their strength of schedule can also be a component for making another deep run in the state tournament.
“Our depth is great but clearly avoiding injuries is always going to be a major factor,” Blue said. “We’re ready. We got some players that have been there and done it in the club and high school level. Hopefully when it comes to it, we’ll be a seasoned team that’s ready to make a good run again.”