Confident, unafraid and motivated

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Los Alamos girls soccer coach Ann Cernicek talks to her team at halftime during a game against St. Michael's last week. St. Mike's won 3-2. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE, N.M. — Ann Cernicek has spent the better part of the past decade in the Washington, D.C., Beltway area, far from her beloved home in the Los Alamos hills.

And for most of her time around the nation’s capital, she’s also been away from coaching sidelines at soccer matches.

But on Aug. 1, her job at the Pentagon under Los Alamos National Laboratory ended and she was able to come back to her New Mexico home and take up coaching anew.

While in D.C., Cernicek had a rather high-level task.

“I worked in the office of the secretary of defense,” she said. “We were working on policy to counter weapons of mass destruction. It was terribly interesting to see the daily activities within Washington, D.C. It’s eye-opening. I am really glad I had that experience to see that first hand and be a part of it.”

Not exactly a 9-to-5 gig and it certainly seems that, by comparison, trying to herd a bunch of teenage girls on the pitch is just so much child’s play.

Cernicek was the Hilltoppers boys coach from 1995-2005 before her D.C. odyssey began. She said she’s glad to be back.

“It’s been really fun,”said Cernicek of taking over the girls team. “I’m really glad I’ve done it. The job ad came out in the February-March time frame, I didn’t finish up (in Washington) until Aug. 1. So I got the job and couldn’t do a whole lot. It’s great to have a super staff working with me.”

Until she could return to Los Alamos, the program was in the hands and feet of former Hilltoppers teammate and assistant coach Erika Leidrecht, junior varsity-coach Jessica Sutherland – daughter of former longtime ‘Toppers girls coach Jiri Kubicek – as well as her husband, strength coach Dustin Sutherland and goalkeepers coach John Whitton, a Santa Fe High School alum.

The Los Alamos school administration “certainly showed a lot of patience on this end to allow me to finish that up and still take coaching duties,” she said.

“Los Alamos is a unique place. I’ve always believed in community service, integrating is important for anybody and this is an opportunity to do that, get integrated back into the community more than if I had not had this position.”

As for her team’s activities, “A lot of the summer, it was a lot of fitness, a lot of small-sided activities,” Cernicek said. “They ran a little girls’ soccer camp.”

But since she’s been back, it’s been full on.

“We definitely put it in high gear in tryouts,” Cernicek said. “We had to see what we had and how we can use it, and identify the tactics and systems that best suit this group of players.”

The latter is still a work in progress, but progressing very nicely, thank you very much, as Los Alamos is off to a 5-1 start.

“That speaks well of the players, we have very good players,” she said. “It’s a good group, committed, coachable, confident. With confidence comes a willingness to try some new things. And they’re becoming more confident in the combinations of players on the field, running a few different systems and looking at different tactics with the group. I’ve been impressed by how quickly they embrace it and grasp it.”

Mighty St. Mike’s

The Hilltoppers headed to the Albuquerque Academy Tournament Thursday to face Goddard. But entering that contest, local rival St. Michael’s has been the only one to solve them.

In theory, the Lady Horsemen should be in full-on rebuilding mode after losing eight seniors, including the state’s top scorer.

But in reality, St. Mike’s still returns eight seniors, a veteran group that reached the semifinals last season.

“They are taking the responsibilities and becoming the backbone of the team,” said coach Gerzain Chavez. “It’s a build-up year, but my new players are very enthusiastic about playing soccer. They’re enthusiastic and not afraid, so that’s good news.”

It helps that senior forward Tiana Baca returned, bringing with her the form that led to 38 goals a year ago. She already has four goals and an assist.

Baca “is currently taking responsibility for things,” Chavez said. “And she can do that. She has the skills. She’s likely more skilled than the previous scoring leader (Monse Camarena). She has to work and mentally she can do that.”

Freshman Olivia Farrar has added five goals and two assists to give the Horsemen a powerful 1-2 scoring punch up top.

“One of the freshmen is going to probably be a fine all-round player,” he said. “The last two games scored four goals already. We’re expecting a lot from Olivia Farrar. She reminds us of Nique Enloe. She started playing with the varsity in eighth grade and that’s who she reminds me of.”

Defensively, Kyle Marquez and Hannah Boyd are both veterans who trying to help the lesser experienced backline players along.

“They are going to be holding our defense together,” Chavez said.

Overall, the expectations are somewhat tempered as the Horsemen try to completely gel as a team, even though they are off to a 3-1 start.

“I think we’ll do good in our local district,” he said. “We’ll get a better picture of where we’re at. My expectations are to make it to state, but not sure how competitive we’ll be … .”

Versatile Griffins

“We have a good mix,” said Santa Fe Prep coach Stephanie Coppola. “We only had two seniors last year so the team didn’t change much. It’s nice in terms of cohesion and chemistry.”

Prep is heading into a two-week break from games as the players head off on the school’s annual camping trip.

And rather than try to cram a number of games into the remaining portion of the schedule, Coppola decided to go with an abbreviated 14-game slate to save some wear and tear on the players.

“I think 20 games is too many, it puts too much stress on their legs,” she said.

That should be more than enough to prepare them for a postseason run as Coppola sees this group as a special one.

“The kids are super motivated and fun to be around,” she said. “I’m looking forward to the year. Regardless of what we do on the scoresheet, it will be fun to see them develop and compete.”

But the results on the scoresheet have been just fine so far as they enter their break with a 3-0-1 record.

“It’s a fun group to coach,” Coppola said. “They’ll do the work on their own to get better technically and they’re also very eager to learn the mental part, the decision-making.”

And it’s a group with a lot of versatility that can get scoring from a number of players.

Freshman Anna Swanson is the scoring leader thus far, with nine goals and five assists, but the offense runs through junior mainstay Lynn Robey, who has five goals and two assists.

“She’s so consistent and steady,” Coppola said of Robey. “She is just amazing. She doesn’t let up and nothing affects her. She’s just really focused.”

Sophomore Hayden Colfaz also been added to the scoring mix, with three goals and three assists, while the Blue Griffins play tough team defense in front of the goalkeeping tandem of freshman Allison Kice and junior Lark O’Hora.

“We have two really solid goalkeepers,” Coppola said. “They have different styles, but they really complement each other.”

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St. Michael's Olivia Farrar, left, and Los Alamos' Jaci Linn battle for the ball during a recent match. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

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St. Michael's Tiana Baca, left, and Los Alamos' Vianey Terrazas battle for the ball during their game in Santa Fe on August 31. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

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