The final day of prep soccer’s regular season generated a crowd atop the boys standings in District 1-5A.
A goal three minutes into the first overtime by Atrisco Heritage senior striker Gabriel Soto gave the Jaguars a dramatic 3-2 victory over defending 5A state champion Rio Rancho at the APS Complex late Saturday afternoon.
But this goal had ramifications that ran much deeper than that.
Atrisco Heritage’s victory vaulted the Jaguars into a three-way tie for first place in that district, along with the Rams and Volcano Vista. All of them finished 6-2 in league play.
And the Jaguars, by virtue of this win, became something of an unlikely district champion based on the tie-breaking procedures. Atrisco Heritage edged Rio Rancho by a goal in the tiebreaker, so it is the Jaguars who earn the automatic berth to the 5A playoffs.
For first-year Jaguars head coach Javi Hernandez, a 2013 Atrisco Heritage graduate who just took over the program in the summer after a couple of seasons coaching the girls, there was profound joy for his boys in the aftermath.
“I think it was a hard transition,” he said, “from what we wanted to do. Different manager, different tactics … we started to understand each other and find our best 11. … We knew we were getting close, everthing just started to click, and maybe luck came to our favor.”
Atrisco Heritage, as of 8 p.m. Saturday, was ranked No. 15 among 28 Class 5A boys teams in the MaxPreps.com poll, which is one of the criteria used to select and seed teams for the state tournament. Only 12 quality for the playoffs, and Atrisco Heritage now is an automatic qualifier as a district champion. The Jaguars might have had trouble getting in as an at-large selection.
The state tournament brackets in 5A, 4A and 1A-3A are to be announced late afternoon on Sunday by the New Mexico Activities Association.
The NMAA will have the latitude to seed Rio Rancho (ranked fifth) or Volcano Vista’s boys (eighth), or both, higher than Atrisco Heritage when the 5A boys postseason field is announced. Atrisco Heritage’s win Saturday guaranteed it a spot in the postseason, but not a higher seed than the Rams or Hawks.
Volcano Vista coach Billy Thiebaut, whose Hawks battered Cibola 10-1 on Saturday, said he believes Atrisco Heritage (10-8) deserves a respectful seed.
“It would be disappointing if Atrisco Heritage wasn’t rated eighth or better,” said Thiebaut. “Because they are one of the best eight teams right now.”
Volcano Vista finished 13-5 overall. Rio Rancho, which beat Albuquerque High in the state final in the spring, went 15-5 against a demanding schedule.
A tie Saturday between the Rams and Jaguars would have been most beneficial to Rio Rancho in the three-way tiebreaker as the Rams would have been the first-place finisher.
Soto’s goal, from a step outside the 18-yard box, set off a joyous celebration.
“The ball fell to me, and I found a little bit of space,” Soto said. “It’s what I was waiting for all game, so I didn’t hesitate and I took the shot.”
GIRLS: La Cueva closed an unbeaten District 2-5A campaign on Saturday following a scoreless draw with Eldorado at the APS Complex. The Bears (15-2-1, 9-0-1 in 2-5A) should be a top-four seed in the 5A bracket.
STATE: First-round playoff games in 5A and 4A are scheduled Tuesday at home sites. The top four seeds have byes until the quarterfinals, which are Oct. 29 and 30, also at home sites. The 1A-3A fields are only eight teams, and thus won’t get started until next weekend with the quarters.
The state tournament this season is nearly two full weeks long, with two rounds in Week 1 and the semifinals (home sites) and championship games (at UNM) the following week. This breaks from the norm of first-round games the opening weekend, then the final three rounds on three consecutive days in Week 2.