‘I like the way we’ve started’

Santa Fe Prep’s Harrison Trainor, 13, battles with Hope’s Ben Gutierrez, 3, during the game at Hope on Tuesday (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE, N.M. — Every year, the soccer play in the north is improving.

And while the games are getting ever more competitive, the soccer community itself remains a tightknit group.

That was a point that was driven home this week when the Los Alamos boys team bus broke down on the downside of La Bajada.

Stranded on the side of the interstate Tuesday, wondering how they were going to get to Albuquerque for their big match against fellow perennial contender St. Pius, another bus suddenly pulled up alongside. It was the Santa Fe Prep boys team that was headed to its own major match against Hope Christian.

“They saw us stranded on the side of the road, and coach Hersch Wilson and his team gave us ride,” Hilltoppers coach Ron Blue said. “That was very generous of him to give us a ride, and for us to just to get the game and then even to play well was really something.”

It’s the type of life lesson that goes beyond the classroom, Blue said.

“That’s the kind of thing you hope kids learn from their high school experience,” he said. “Having generosity and compassion, even for people who you’re going to compete against.”

The two teams came away from their matches with identical 1-0 losses, but both coaches were okay with that.

“Both teams had a little adversity to work through,” Blue said. “Even though it was a 1-nil loss, I was proud of the way the boys handled the adversity.”

Prepping Santa Fe

Likewise, Wilson saw some good things from his Blue Griffins squad that has already finished its non-district slate as it looks forward to a two-week break to mend some bruised and banged-up bodies.

“We were so hurt and sore going into that game, we thought about bunkering in and defending, but the guys wanted to play wide open, so that’s what we did,” he said. “We’re showing that we can stick with a team like Hope. If we’re healthy, we’re going to have good results down the road.”

So far, the results on paper – the team stands at 0-2-2 – have been something less than expected, however.

“We’ve had two 100-minute games that ended in ties,” said Wilson, who, as is his norm, didn’t even mention his team’s roadside largess. “Then we had another 90-minute-plus game that was a 1-goal loss and the next day lost by one goal to Hope Christian. For me, we’ve gotten better every game. That kind of excited a bunch of us, but we’ve gotten some really tired players.”

A big key will be the return of top midfielder Harrison Miller, who is trying to make his way back from a partially torn ACL in his knee while the remainder of the team has been worn down by the tough opening slate.

Still, the Blue Griffins should be right there in November, trying to defend their Class1A-4A championship.

“I think they never give up,” Wilson said of his players. “Our first half against Hope, Hope just dominated against us. The second half, we played them straight up and it was a wide open game. They are definitely capable of ignoring the score and playing hard the entire game.”

Santa Fe Prep opened the season with something of a surprise as a toughened and hardened Santa Fe High School squad battled hard for a 1-all draw before the Demons came back and beat St. Michael’s 3-1 last week.

Demons and Jaguars arise

It could be a harbinger of better things on the horizon for Santa Fe, Wilson said.

“They played a really physical game against us,” he said. “In the first half, it was all Santa Fe. They were winning all the 50-50 balls and we were having trouble getting a rhythm going.”

Offensively, Santa Fe junior Matt Hunter has been in the driver’s seat, having a foot in every goal the team scored, with two goals and two assists. And junior goalkeeper Sergio Equino has come up with seven saves in two games go along with his 1.0 goals-against average

Circle the calendar for Sept. 12 when the Demons, 1-0-1, meet crosstown rival Capital, which could be the teams’ most interesting clash in years.

The Jaguars, also 1-0-1, are again a squad that will cause opposing squads fits.

“We set our goals optimistically,” said coach Eugene Dyle, who has turned Capital into one of the premier 5A programs. “We want to defend the championship for the Roswell tournament we won last year and we’re hoping to make a run at the district championship, and this is definitely the hardest district in state with Albuquerque Academy, Los Alamos and ourselves. To come out district champion that’s our goal, and it’s a hard task and then we want to make a good run at state and win the whole state tournament.”

The Jaguars have not exactly been flashy offensively yet, but “we’re real strong in the midfield and defensively,” he said. “We have a lot of good leadership. We haven’t let up a goal yet this year. Hopefully, we have a stronghold in the back and will not give up many shots.”

As long as the backside of the team is strong behind senior centerback Kevin Reza and senior midfielder Alexis Rodriguez, Doyle is convinced the offense will come around.

“We always have very good team defense,” he said. “We’re trying to get more chemistry with the offensive attack.”

No longer stranded

As for the Hilltoppers, the loss at St. Pius to a team in the state finale a year ago was the first blemish on the record.

“We have a pretty nice team, but we’ll see how it all turns out,” Blue said. “We’re going to be there at the end.”

Los Alamos, 5-1-0, is built from the defensive side first, he said.

“The strength of the team is in the back,” Blue said. “We’ve got nice players all over. We’re going to be tough to score on. We’ve got some very good defensive players.”

Led by senior Adam Listwan, the defenders understand their role on the team.

“We have a really good core of defensive players that take a lot of pride in being good teammates and doing their job,” Blue said. “It’s nice when you have guys that are selfless and realize there’s a bigger picture than just them.”

Up top, junior forward Arthur Steinkamp and Tristan Semelsberger have been explosive offensively, with 13 goals and five assists between them.

“They both played at a high level, the club level, and they have good instincts off the ball,” Blue said. “They’ve already stepped up as dangerous threats.”

Of course, negotiating the minefield that is district play will be tough, but Blue is optimistic.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” he said. “But I like the way we’ve started.”

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