Girls Prep Soccer Preview: District race should be competitive

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The 2013 prep soccer season ended with all three Valencia County girls teams in the Class 4A playoffs after a very competitive District 6-4A title chase that involved all three teams.

2014 will present a new challenge as Belen, Los Lunas and Valencia move into a new southern district that could prove to be very competitive.

News-Bulletin file photo: BELEN SEnior forward Alexis Begay, center and Los Lunas senior forward Samantha Lucero, right, will both be key in their teams’ 2014 campaigns. Begay finished 2013 as Class 4A’s leading goal scorer with 32 goals and with the second highest point total, with 70 points; Lucero finished 15th in the state overall with 33 points and 12 goals.

The Tigers looked to be going into the 2013 postseason on a roll, having finished 8-2 in District 6-4A and an overall record of 12-8, but had their dreams of a state tournament run rudely ended by visiting Santa Fe.

Coach James Torres, in his eighth year at the helm at LLHS, has 12 returning letter winners and nine starters from last year’s team, making a repeat as district champs a definite possibility.

“I think we’re looking pretty good so far,” he said recently. “We’re gelling pretty well for this early in the season, everyone seems to be on the same page.”

LLHS lost five seniors, including two mainstays in central defense, but the Tigers have a solid core of incoming seniors returning, including leading scorer Samantha Lucero at forward, district co-player-of-the-year Samantha Saavedra in goal and All-State midfielder Elisa Burgess, a junior, in the line up, as well as defender and free kick specialist Analyssa Lopez.

Torres said he also expects big things from sophomore midfielder/forward Kira Ortiz and sophomore forward/midfielder Jaidyn Armijo, who both made significant contributions as freshmen in 2013.

“We expect them to continue to improve this season,” Torres said. “We’re pretty balanced. We have a lot of good players coming back. I don’t want to say we’ll win (the district), but that’s always our goal.”

Torres said the loss in last year’s first round at state has given his team something to build on,

“Having that experience was important,” he said. “Now we have an understanding of the intensity teams play with in state tournament and knowing we need to come out ready to play.”

At 13-7 and 7-3 in district, 2013 was a great season overall for the Eagles. But a pair of losses to archrival Los Lunas and a stunning extra time loss to visiting Santa Teresa in the state tournament put a damper on the season.

Coach Wilfred Carassco moved on to coach the Belen boys in the off-season. Former Eagle soccer standout Crystal Cordova, a 2004 BHS graduate, has stepped into the head coaching cleats.

Belen returns eight letter winners and seven starters, including senior Alexis Begay, who finished 2013 as the Class 4A’s leading goal scorer with 32 goals and second highest point total in 4A with 70 points.

“She’s so strong and powerful; she’s a true athlete,” Cordova said. “We scrimmaged the boys a few weeks ago and she kept sprinting past them. She’s a bullet.”

BHS returns defender/midfielders Arianna Valdez, a senior who was captain last season, and Ashlee Valdez, a sophomore. But forward Danielle Saavedra, is out for the season due to an ACL injury suffered in basketball last season. The Eagles will also have to replace stellar ‘keeper Maria Lupita Sabinas.

Cordova said the Eagles should be solid in the midfield, with freshman Leandra Sanchez and sophomore Samantha Valdez stepping into new roles there, defender Amanda Mechaca helping anchor the defense and eighth-grader Brooklynn Carter in as a striker.

“Summer workouts were great,” Cordova said. “We’ve seen improvements with touches and communication. Our teamwork in general has been really good. All around, we have a great group that’s very versatile.”

In her sixth year at the helm, Jaguars coach Kimberly Chavez again said she’s looking at a rebuilding year at VHS.

The Jaguars ended 2013 in Roswell, losing to nemesis Roswell Goddard to finish 13-7 overall and 6-4 in district after a slow start in league play.

“It’s kind of a rebuilding year again,” Chavez said. “We have a lot of positions to fill and several players who haven’t played soccer but are very athletic. So we have a lot of potential and a lot of new girls to the program. We’re young but so far we’ve clicked.”

Valencia lost eight seniors from last season, but have their 2013 captains back — senior forward/midfielder Kristian Contratto and senior defender Clara Sims, who at 6-foot can be a force in the defense.

Junior midfielder Ashley Rubio and sister, Briana, a defender, round out the most experienced of the Jaguars, said Chavez.

Finding a cohesive starting 11 is going to be a priority in the pre-district schedule for Valencia, Chavez said.

“We’re going to have to experiment, move some girls around in some key positions,” she said. “We lost our centers, so we’ll probably be putting our more experienced girls in those positions. The biggest thing is going to be coming out to play.

“Last year we got going late in district and weren’t ranked as high going into the tournament. The girls now know we have to play hard from the beginning of the season.”