ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A preview of the 2014 high school girls soccer season:
BERNALILLO: With some new blood, a little more familiarity with those returning, and maybe a break or two in the schedule, Spartans coach Larry Baca is hoping his team can improve over a 1-win season in 2013.
“We should be more consistent defensively,” Baca said. “I’m hoping, with the teams that we’re playing, that we can get up to .500 (win-loss percentage). We’ll accomplish something if we get there.”
Seniors Ximena Ruiz and Elysia Chavez return at defender and forward, respectively, while juniors Gabrielle Lovato (forward) and Celia Montoya (midfield) bring back extra experience.
BOSQUE SCHOOL: The Bobcats are coming off a solid 17-win season; they were beaten in the Class 1A-3A quarterfinals by Taos.
From that team, seven starters return. Players to watch include senior midfielder Lee Sturdevant, senior defender Laura Trost, junior defender Georgia Gray, sophomore midfielder Rhythm Badal and sophomore goalkeeper Bella Blewett-Raby.
The Bobcats are hoping to keep pace with their talented district rivals, state champion Hope Christian and also Sandia Prep.
CIBOLA: Coach Gary Zink hopes last season served as a lesson to his returning players. The 2013 Cougars were something of a streaky bunch, starting fast, struggling in district play and getting hot to finish the season.
How often does a team go 13-9, finish last in a four-team district then come within one goal of a state title?
“Last year’s girls made a statement,” Zink said. “Don’t give up, keep believing and good things can happen.”
Unfortunately for Zink, few of the players who lost to Eldorado in penalty kicks after a four-overtime, championship game battle are back. Cibola lost 13 players to graduation. The Cougars were seeded 10th before their amazing playoff run.
Still, 2014 does not look to be a rebuilding year for the Cougars. With speedy players like Madi Snell and Quinlyn Borneo on the attack, and experienced back-line players like goalie Dmitri Fong and fullback Anna Medina, Cibola figures to be in the hunt in a loaded District 1-6A.
CLEVELAND: Everything starts with the defense for the Storm this season.
Goalkeeper Ashley Martin is back, along with two central defenders, Johna Fowler (a second-team, All-State selection in 5A last year) and Camille Sanchez.
“We’ll have a heck of a defense,” coach Greg Rusk said.
The offense, he said, was another matter. Senior All-State forward Audriana Chavez was Cleveland’s second-leading scorer a year ago, but Rusk is uncertain where much of his scoring will come from.
The Storm opened Friday against Oñate. Cleveland lost in the state semifinals last season to Cibola.
RIO RANCHO: The Rams graduated some impact seniors, and they open this season with senior forward Brittany Shrader on the shelf with a knee injury.
Rio Rancho coach Uwe Balzis expects Shrader, one of the state’s clutch scorers, to be cleared to return by midseason.
Senior midfielder Mariah Baker, however, should be one of the district’s most dominating players, according to Balzis. She was a first-team, All-State selection last season, as was junior defender Shelby Garner.
Rio Rancho met Las Cruces on Friday in the 2014 opener.
ST. PIUS: A repeat of the 2013 season would be hard for head coach David Sullivan and his Sartans. But it’s doable.
St. Pius is coming off a 22-1 season, which culminated with a Class 4A state championship.
“Realistically, repeating what we did last year, with 22 wins and one loss, that’s really hard to do,” Sullivan said. “We have bolstered up our schedule this year and we play a lot of Class 6A schools. Because we knew we would have a strong team again this year, we wanted to be tested.”
St. Pius brings back last year’s Class 4A Player of the Year in defender Amanda Hernandez and have 13 other players returning.
“She’s a very good player who is tough as nails,” Sullivan said of Hernandez. “She is one of those girls that has ‘it’ about her. She’s not afraid to be rough.”
St. Pius returns four other first-team, All-State selections besides Hernandez: senior midfielders Dominique Rivera and Madeline Waszak, junior goalkeeper Tatiana Sarracino and sophomore forward Tatiana Limon.
VALLEY: While the Vikings are relatively young, with only four seniors, they return all their starters from last season.
“We can do good things if we come together and start playing as a team,” coach Greg Perez said.
Junior forward Yazmine Mejia is probably Valley’s most dynamic player; she was second on the team in scoring last season.
Perez also expects good seasons from the likes of junior center/midfielder Marissa Griego and senior defender Desirae Morales.
Valley lost in the first round of state last season to La Cueva.
VOLCANO VISTA: The Hawks were a state semifinalist in Class 5A in November, losing there to eventual champ Eldorado. Seven starters are back for coach Samantha Lucero.
“I have a lot of talented players,” she said. “I have some special players who haven’t been recognized much in the past. I’m excited to see what they do.”
Defensively, Volcano Vista looks solid, led by senior Caity Acosta and junior Sarah Lucero, and that will be important, because the offense lost Claire Lynch, the team’s leading scorer, to UNM.
WEST MESA: The Mustangs promoted JV coach Jay Jones to the varsity this season. West Mesa is trying to improve on a 5-13 season.
Players to watch include senior midfielder Larissa Romero, senior defenders April Torres and Christina Chavez, and sophomore goalkeeper Syneca Pyszko.