In a sense, you could say that the Cleveland Storm boys soccer team has been building up to a week like this.
Cleveland for the last five years has steadily been improving its seeding slot for the state tournament. From a 12 to a 7 to a 5 to a 4.
And now, this week, the Storm is the No. 1 seed for the Class 5A playoffs.
“It’s an honor to be thought of as the No. 1 seed,” Cleveland coach Shaun Gill said. “It’s a really special group. But at the end of the day, you have to win the tournament.”
The complex on the Santa Ana Pueblo welcomes 48 teams today – 24 in each gender – for quarterfinal action, with the first quartet of games beginning at 9:30 a.m. and the Class 5A boys the last division to get started, at 3:30 p.m.
Semifinal games are Thursday, with championships scheduled Friday.
Cleveland (17-3), which features one of the state’s most electrifying scorers in junior forward Gabriel Legendre (28 goals) opens with District 1 rival Atrisco Heritage, a team the Storm whipped by a combined score of 9-1 in two league games.
Defending big-school state champion Albuquerque High (15-2-1) takes on the team with the best record in the field, 17-2-1 Clovis. The fourth-seeded Bulldogs have won 13 games in a row, and they’ve done it with defense. AHS has been a juggernaut on the back line and in net, having surrendered, astonishingly, just six goals the entire season – and only one in its last nine matches. The Bulldogs have won 13 games by shutout.
No. 3 seed La Cueva and No. 7 Volcano Vista also face southern programs, with the Bears taking on Mayfield, and the Hawks facing No. 2 Hobbs, led by junior forward Keaton Hartman and his 26 goals.
CLASS 4A: The tournament runs through top-seeded St. Pius – 16-2 with losses only to La Cueva and AHS, and riding an 11-game win streak.
“We’re ready, man. We’re ready to rock,” Sartans coach A.J. Herrera said of his veteran group that has largely been together since they were freshmen. St. Pius today faces No. 9 seed Los Lunas, a district rival who played St. PIus tight in one of those two losses.
“We learned our lesson last year,” Herrera said. “You can’t overlook anybody. We know (Los Lunas) is gonna be ready for us.”
Albuquerque Academy headlines the bottom half of the bracket; the Chargers (15-4-1), 5A runners-up a year ago to Alamogordo, open the postseason against No. 10 Aztec.
District rivals Santa Teresa and Chaparral also are coming off first-round byes.
CLASS 1A-3A: There will be a new small-school state champ after the departure of Hope Christian – which moved up in class and lost in the 4A first round to Aztec.
But a familiar face, Sandia Prep (12-8), starts Week 2 of the postseason as the No. 1 seed. The Sundevils were the 1A-4A runner-up to Hope last November.
“We’re feeling pretty good right now,” longtime Sandia Prep coach Tommy Smith said. “We’re healthy, and I think we’re playing as well as we’ve played all season.”
The Sundevils started 2-6, albeit against a tough schedule of larger programs. And Smith admitted his group had its “tail between (its) legs a little bit.”
“Those early games,” Smith added, “taking our lumps, helped us figure out what we were and what we could become,” Smith said.
Bosque, the 7 seed, meets Robertson today in the quarters; Robertson and St. Michael’s are the only two teams to have beaten Sandia Prep in the second half of the season, but both are on the opposite side of the bracket.
At last, the metro area gets its first significant look at Centennial (19-0), the No. 1 seed in 5A.
This is easily the best pre-tournament nugget of the week in either gender:
Centennial is ranked No. 16 in the country by USA Today – and yet ranked only No. 8 in New Mexico. La Cueva, last year’s big-school state champ, is seeded No. 8 in this tournament but ranked No. 1 in the state.
It is the Bears (16-2-1) and Hawks who square off today in the quarterfinals in the most fascinating of the four games today at noon.
“Does La Cueva deserve to be an 8 seed? No,” Centennial coach Alex Reyes said. “But there’s a criteria that’s out of our hands as coaches.”
Reyes coached the last team outside of the metro area – Las Cruces in 2005 – to win a girls state championship in the largest division. It has been 12 years since a team outside the metro area even made it to the state final.
And the Hawks are a relatively young team, with their top four goal scorers being underclassmen.
No. 4 Cibola and No. 5 Volcano Vista make for an interesting quarterfinal pair; the district rivals split two league games in the regular season, with the Cougars winning the most recent matchup.
In the bottom half, you have No. 3 Cleveland against No. 6 AHS (the Storm edged the Bulldogs 1-0 two months ago), and second-seeded Sandia facing No. 7 Eldorado, which was extremely shorthanded in the first round against Clovis after several players were injured in a car accident nine days ago. Two players involved in that wreck are still expected to be out today.
CLASS 4A: Top-seeded Albuquerque Academy (18-2) begins its quest for a three-peat today in the quarterfinals against Del Norte. Senior forward Eliza Mariner has 58 goals for the Chargers this season.
So how does Academy keep its edge?
“It’s a great question. We’ve been talking all week about playing to our highest level, to keep the standard really high in practice and stay really focused and intense,” Chargers coach Peter Glidden said. “These girls know there is a big target on their backs, and everyone wants to take down the Academy. And (my girls) are excited about stepping up to that challenge.”
Academy has outscored opponents 139-8 this season.
No. 2 seed Hope Christian and No. 3 St. Pius anchor the bottom half of the 4A bracket. Academy and the Sartans both are on 11-game winning streaks. St. Pius started 1-6-1 but hasn’t lost since.
CLASS 1A-3A: Sandia Prep, the defending small-school state champion, is seeded No. 1. The Sundevils (13-4-2 and winners of 10 straight) open against Robertson at 9:30 this morning.
Bosque School is seeded third and playing a St. Michael’s team the Bobcats split with in district play.
An extremely young Socorro side – the Warriors don’t have any seniors – is the No. 2 seed. The Warriors are 19-1 and have won 13 in a row.