Playoff return the aim for Belen, Valencia girls By Kenn Rodriguez

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Last season could be considered a good year for girls soccer in Valencia County as both Belen and Valencia High Schools managed to make the 12-team Class 4A State Tournament.

Both teams, along with rivals Los Lunas, are looking for state playoff berths in 2013 and to advance further.

News-Bulletin file photo: GOALKEEPER Haley Baca hopes to help her Valencia HIgh squad to make a repeat appearance in the state playoffs.

After seeing an improvement in each of his first two years with the Eagles, third-year coach Wilfred Carrasco is looking to continue the upward trend with Belen, which took the District 6-4A crown last season with a 9-2 league record and a 12-9 overall slate.

Losing five seniors from that squad may be a concern, as is the team’s lack of depth (Belen sports just 16 players on varsity). But Carrasco said he feels the program is still moving forward.

“The reason (depth) is an issue is that all of our players coming up are very young,” he said. “(But) we have a lot of athletes this year and I think that saves us. So many of our girls have committed to fitness but they’re raw athletes. We can train athletes in soccer.”

Carrasco is asking his 11 on the field to be able to switch between offense and defense, as well as switching positions as need be — something that has worked well for the Eagles in years past.

With a solid core of leaders, including captains Maria Lupita Sabinas, a senior at keeper, junior central defender Arianna Valdez and senior Jayden Casillas in the midfield, Carrasco feels his team will not want for leadership and experience.

News-Bulletin file photo: LOS LUNAS HIGH goalkeeper Samantha Savedra anchors a Tiger defense that will be key to the team’s hopes in 2013.

Junior forward Alexis Begay brings an explosive element to the Eagles’ offense, showing both speed and strength at the top of Belen’s formation.

“I don’t see any selfish players on this team,” Carrasco said. “We use Begay for our strength because she’s such a fast and terrifying attacker. But we also have (freshman) Danielle Saavedra, on the side, who isn’t afraid to get that one touch as an assist.”

Carrasco’s approach has worked so far, giving him the confidence to schedule tough. The Eagles will play perennial state playoff participants Aztec, Rio Rancho, and Hope Christian before heading into the district slate this season.

“We have a really tough schedule,” he said. “We’ll be playing high quality caliber teams so that by the time we get to district, no one we plays will be better than anyone we’ve played. They’ll be ready to play with anybody by the time we get to district.”

Coach Kimberly Chavez’ squad lost seven seniors from last season’s 12-7 team, so making a repeat trip to the state playoffs seem like a tough mountain to climb.

Scaling those heights this season will be a challenge, with just three starters and nine letter-winners coming back, said the coach.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: BELEN HIGH forward Alexis Begay, center, is a strong, shifty forward who could help the Eagles return to the Class 4A Girls State Soccer Tournament come November.

“We lost the core, six starters from last season, so we have a lot of girls filling in and have a lot of work to do,” said Chavez, who is in her ninth year at VHS. “They have a lot of potential. We just need to start working together.”

One thing the Jags do have going for them is their defense, which essentially remains intact, Chavez said. Senior Miranda Kittridge will be looked to for keeping the defense steady with sophomore Claire Sims, junior Kristina Contratto and freshmen Savannah Lucero and Bryana Rubio helping to keep opposing offenses from gaining traction.

With the defense a base, Valencia still does need to work on aspects of its offense, Chavez said.

“We need to work harder with the offense and get them shooting,” she said. “We’re lacking on that. But I think the girls will adapt. It’s still early on in the season.

“We don’t have the speed we had last year, but we do have the drive,” she said. “Once we get a little more practice in, we’ll be fine. We’ve made the first round two years in a row. We’re hoping to continue that and go beyond. Once we get it together, if we work hard, we can accomplish that.”

Seventh-year Los Lunas coach James Torres said three seniors and five juniors are an asset as the Tigers look to improve from their 8-11 mark in 2012.

“We have a lot of experience coming back this year,” Torres said. “They’re a lot of real dedicated kids who’ve been working since the summer. This is one of the better groups I’ve worked with in a while. They’re just hungry to get out there and win.”

Leading scorer Samantha Lucero, a junior, returns at forward, and LLHS will have plenty of stability on defense with junior goalkeeper Samantha Savedra (an all-state honorable mention pick last season) and defender Analyssa Lopez, a junior.

At midfield, the Tigers will look to senior Justine Candelaria for stability and service for Lucero and midfielder/forward ReAnna Torres, a junior, who started her season with a hat trick against Gallup Miyamura at the Aztec Tigers Tournament over the weekend.

Torres said the squad is working hard to implement its “total team concept.”

“We have three typically (forwards who) play up top, but everybody can score on the field,” he said. Last year had one outside defender who had 6-7 goals, so we don’t have one primary scorer. We have quite a few offensive weapons all around the field.”

The race for the District 6-4A championship should be a wild one this year, Torres said.

“It’s going to be one of those years where the district title is wide open,” he said. There are no easy games. With a six team district, it makes it tough. We’ll have to stay focused every time we hit the field.”