ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Soccer teams on both boys and girls side ultra-competitive
In hindsight, the coaches were correct. There was indeed a power district in high school soccer this year.
More than one, as it turns out.
Sure, the usual cast of characters dot the Class 5A playoff field (think Northeast Heights), but only one of the five districts in 5A shipped all of its schools to the postseason. And it wasn’t 2-5A.
“I’m not saying we have the No. 1 team,” Rio Rancho boys coach John Shepard said, “but our bottom is better than everyone else’s bottom.”
District 1-5A will have no absentees at state. They went 8-for-8. Cleveland’s boys and Cibola’s girls were the last teams in, as No. 12 seeds.
Cibola carries an un-playoff like 6-12 record into the playoffs.
“We’ve come so far,” said junior defender Alanna Byrne. “If you saw us at the beginning of the year and saw us now, you’d see how we’ve grown.”
Top to bottom, 1-5A produced the best girls soccer in New Mexico. This is not in dispute. Comparing one district to the other, the boys’ talent in 2-5A was probably superior to 1-5A, but 1-5A was a grind on those involved.
“Every single time we played, it could have gone either way, and that’s not the case in any other district in any other classification,” said Volcano Vista boys coach Billy Thiebaut, whose team won the district.
The full representation of 1-5A came at the expense of District 5-5A, which only qualified district champions — Albuquerque High, in both cases. The second-place teams, Rio Grande (girls) and Highland (boys), were shut out.
“I was relieved,” Cleveland coach Shaun Gill said. “I really thought they’d take the runner-up out of District 5 instead of the fourth team from our district.”
Many predicted this type of imbalance when the state realigned the 5A districts before 2010-11 — and that 5-5A would not find heavy representation in the playoffs. However, as much as anything, this is a byproduct of the decision to begin seeding teams and eliminating district runners-up as automatic qualifiers.
The seeding system is supposed to weed out teams from soft districts while rewarding stronger leagues. This, after years of complaints that too many unworthy district runners-up advanced while third- or fourth-place teams from tougher districts stayed home.
For example, Rio Grande’s girls won 11 games this year, five more than Cibola. But the Ravens’ season is over.
“They just don’t understand why a team that’s not even .500 gets into the state tournament,” Rio Grande coach Carlos Mandujano said. “The only thing I can tell them is that I guess we didn’t meet the criteria.”
Rio Grande’s stance was brought up to Cibola junior midfielder Kelsey Harney.
“I’d like to see (them) play the teams we played and win,” she said. “My opinion is that we do deserve it.”
Incidentally, Mandujano is right. His team did not meet the criteria.
Cibola beat three state qualifiers — Albuquerque High, Del Norte and Hope Christian — while Rio Grande went 0-6 against playoff teams. That is an important aspect to the selection process.
What likely cost Rio Grande the most is that Cibola beat AHS 3-0, while the Ravens lost twice to the Bulldogs by a combined 8-1.
“I appreciate that the Rio Grande (people) would be unhappy,” Cibola coach David Disko said, “but if we were to play them head to head, I know who would come out of that one ahead.”
The New Mexico Activities Association, which seeded the schools, has steadfastly refused to comment on the selection process.
As for the Cougars, they didn’t win a single district game. They are taking 11 freshmen to state.
“We’re going to prove that we deserve it,” Harney said.
Choosing Cleveland’s boys was less controversial. Highland finished under .500 (7-11) and the Storm had quality wins over Las Cruces, Rio Rancho and Cibola.
“I knew that we should have made it,” Gill said.
The four boys teams from 1-5A were seeded 6, 7, 9 and 12. All are seeded lower than the playoff teams from 2-5A, which has Eldorado at No. 2, La Cueva at No. 3 and Sandia at No. 5.
“We’re only the second toughest district,” Cibola boys coach Shane Huff said.
They’ll have to settle for perfect attendance.