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Prep soccer: Optimism reigns as 2019 boys season kicks off

Albuquerque Academy celebrates a 3-0 win against Los Alamos in the Class 4A boys soccer final last November. Academy is optimistic about its chances to repeat, but the Chargers must replace 11 seniors from the 2018 team. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Cleveland High School’s boys soccer program has been meticulous about climbing the ladder, if nothing else.

The Storm spent many of the last half-dozen years slowly working its way up near the top of New Mexico’s largest classification – until Cleveland finally reached the summit last November with a Class 5A championship.

For once, as a new season opens, Cleveland becomes the pursued.

“The kids have really accepted the responsibility,” Storm coach Shaun Gill said. “We are no longer progressing. The expectation is there that they can reach that high level again.”

Cleveland, part of the 16-team field in the Albuquerque Metro Championships – which begin this afternoon at the APS Complex – already is 2-0 this season. The Storm, which features possibly the state’s premier player in senior forward Gabriel Legendre, on Saturday blanked Mayfield 3-0 in a rematch of last year’s state final.

Many of the familiar names locally – La Cueva, Albuquerque High and Volcano Vista among them – are part of what Rio Rancho coach John Shepard called an extraordinarily deep field of teams in 5A, the largest soccer division. He said there were at least a dozen programs that could hoist a blue trophy this coming November.

“The parity,” Shepard said, “is ridiculous.”

La Cueva, as it gets back some injured players over the next couple of weeks, has coach Easy Jimenez’s attention.

“We don’t have any superstars, but we’re more deep as a soccer team, so that’s what makes us more scary,” he said. “(At our scrimmage), a lot of people thought we were more deep than we have ever been.”

AHS coach Lucien Starzynski’s program regenerates terrific teams about as well as any school in 5A, and everyone expects the Bulldogs to be a threat. They were stunned last year in the quarterfinals by Clovis.

“This is a team that has real quality, top to bottom – seniors, juniors, sophomores,” Starzynski said. “The beauty of Albuquerque High is, if we lose (a large number of) seniors, we have guys in the system to come right through and replace them. So we rarely drop off. Same thing this year.”

Volcano Vista, which fell to Mayfield in last year’s state semifinals, returns seven starters. But the Hawks graduated their top two goal scorers.

“The backs look good, the midfield looks good … can we reproduce the goals?” Volcano Vista coach Billy Thiebaut said. “That will be the tell for this team.”

Many coaches are high on Atrisco Heritage’s chances, including Jaguars coach Micah Newman.

“We’re really deep,” Newman said. “We have a strong core.”

From the south, three schools – Mayfield, Clovis and Hobbs – all reached at least the quarterfinal round a year ago. Clovis made it to the semifinals. The Trojans lost very few players from last season, and Gadsden is another side that might be heard from in November.

CLASS 4A: Albuquerque Academy is the defending state champion here under coach Laney Kolek. But the Chargers graduated 11 seniors.

“They’re a fun, energetic, young group,” Kolek said. “They’re very eager to learn, eager to play together. This group will take a little bit of time. But the learning curve will be fast.”

St. Pius was a No. 1 seed at state last year, although the Sartans are largely rebuilding with just three starters back. On a sad note, St. Pius’ enrollment has dropped to the point that neither the boys nor the girls will field a junior varsity squad this fall.

But that hasn’t diminished coach A.J. Herrera’s thoughts of how this season might unfold.

“Expectations are high. Nothing is going to change there,” he said.

Los Lunas, which upset St. Pius last season in the state quarterfinals, brings back the bulk of its starting lineup and hopes to repeat another deep postseason run.

Hope Christian should be a factor in 4A, too, with eight starters returning from a team that reached the quarterfinals last fall. Like St. Pius, overall program depth is not great; the Huskies, coach Steve Kokulis said, have just 22 players in the program.

CLASS 1A/3A: Coach Tommy Smith’s Sandia Prep Sundevils won yet another state championship last year, and opens 2019 with a relatively young group.

“We probably will take our lumps early,” Smith said. “It’s a group that will get better. They’re all pretty good soccer players, but we’re just small right now, physically.”

NOTE: The metro tournament has pool play this week, followed by bracket play next week. The semifinals are Sept. 4, the finals are scheduled for Friday, Sept. 6.

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