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Taking it to the next level

Aiden Semelsberger, right, a former Los Alamos High School soccer player, recently signed to New Mexico United’s training program. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Two-time All-State soccer player Aiden Semelsberger of Los Alamos will be bypassing his senior season when the Hilltoppers finally get around to playing their abbreviated season in a few weeks.

No, it is not some COVID-19-related decision.

Semelsberger was asked to join the New Mexico United Academy training program. United plays in the USL Championship league, a rung below Major League Soccer. Semelsberger will train twice a week with United and three days a week with the remainder of the Academy squad, which eventually will compete nationally against Academy teams affiliated with other USL franchises.

“The opportunity to train with the first team and get that coaching, I don’t think you can replicate something like that, replicate that environment in this state,” he said. “The coaching and the players, it’s the best environment for a youth player to take me to the next level.”

For Semelsberger, that next level in the near term will be Denver University in the fall, where he plans to study accounting. Then, he hopes that leads to a professional career with Major League Soccer.

“Another reason I wanted to pursue this opportunity, I didn’t think any other club would be able to prepare me for the speed of play,” he said. “I think playing with the first team is going to be a huge advantage for me, because it will prepare me well and get me prepared for when I get to Denver, and allow me to step in the first day of training and be ready to compete.”

Hilltoppers coach Ron Blue said it was time for Semelsberger to step up to a bigger challenge.

“He’s way too good for high school,” he said. “He’s very good. Now, he needs to focus on his college and pro career.”

Losing a player of Semelsberger’s ability will be tough for the ‘Toppers, but this was certainly the season to do it.

“There’s only excitement and joy that I got to coach him,” Blue said. “I couldn’t be happier for him. He’ll have a good opportunity to train with really good players and prepare for college. It’s much better training than high school.”

In his two seasons with Los Alamos, Semelsberger scored 39 goals with 48 assists, despite frequently playing a mid-field position that is geared toward defense.

He helped the Hilltoppers reach the championship game as a junior in 2019 and Semelsberger said he’ll miss playing high school ball.

“I’ve known those guys for quite a while,” he said. “It’s always fun to play with your friends, but this is the first step for me to grow as a player.”

Semelsberger is the type of player who made his teammates around him better, Blue said.

“He has great vision,” he said. “He has a great first touch with both feet. He plays really nice and he really opens the game up. He makes the game easy for everyone. He’s one of those players who makes the game look simple. He’s a great teammate and a greater kid.”

Semelsberger had his first training sessions with the top squad this past week and, while he wasn’t concerned about going against older, stronger and more experienced players, there was a certain nervousness about fitting in.

“I wouldn’t say I was intimidated, but definitely I was nervous,” he said. “There were butterflies. There just has to be. You’re always going to be nervous going into a situation like that, especially with guys of that caliber.”

All in all, it’s been what he’s expected.

“It’s going good so far,” Semelsberger said. “It’s really intense. It’s awesome. I’ve done it twice this week. They hold you accountable. It’s just a great environment for players to get better. I’m still trying to do everything I’m supposed to. In practice, that helps make you to feel like one of the guys. I think, ultimately, everyone is trying to establish their role.”

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