Rio Rancho-La Cueva seemed like an inevitable state championship pair in Class 6A girls soccer, and the Rams and Bears will reach the finish line together today.
Rio Rancho outlasted Cibola in PKs, while La Cueva edged Volcano Vista in Friday’s semifinals at the APS Complex.
The top two seeds collide at 12:30 p.m. Saturday. They split two regular-season games.
No. 1 RIO RANCHO 1, No. 5 CIBOLA 0 (Rams won 5-3 in PKs): The Rams (19-3) reached their first state final in seven years, going 5-for-5 in the shootout against the Cougars (14-5-2).
“We were hoping for (penalties),” Rio Rancho coach Uwe Balzis said.
He knew, he said, that he had the right five shooters lined up after neither side could score during 100 minutes of regulation and overtime.
And one by one, they applied pressure to Cibola by going first. Cheyenne Orozco had the game-clinching goal for the Rams.
“Coach Uwe wanted to go to PKs,” Orozco said, laughing. “But all of us didn’t want to.”
Sarah Wilmot, Rio Rancho’s goalkeeper, made the crucial save in the shootout, stopping Cibola’s leading scorer, Jasmine Marwan, in the third round.
“Sara is my MVP,” Balzis said.
Her ascension to starter occurred after the season’s first weekend, when the incumbent was felled with a knee injury in Las Cruces. On the bus ride home, the team voted Wilmot as the replacement.
Two interesting things about that: Wilmot wasn’t on the bus (she was driving home with her father), and she hadn’t played goalkeeper in years.
“Since then,” Balzis said, “she’s been awesome. Beyond expectations.”
On the crucial save, Wilmot said she used common sense.
“I just thought that since she’s right-footed, she’d go to her left,” Wilmot said.
“All year,” Orozco said of Wilmot, “she’s been phenomenal.”
No. 3 LA CUEVA 1, No. 7 VOLCANO VISTA 0: Cassie Boren, who anchors the center of the Bears’ back line, stood about 50 yards away from the Hawks’ net, not necessarily thinking that one swing of her right leg would be the thing that separated these two powers.
But that’s how it played out.
Boren knocked in a direct kick from midfield in the 43rd minute, and the Bears (18-2) made that stand up as they reached the season’s last day.
“It’s just really nice to get back to the final,” coach Amber Ashcraft said. “We’ve been talking about it all year, that this is where we wanted to be.”
It required some accuracy, and a fortuitous bounce, for this to occur.
Boren’s blast landed short of the net, but it hopped over the head and outstretched hands of Volcano Vista goalkeeper Melissa Mancha.
“One of the sweetest feelings,” Boren said.
From there, it was on her and the defense to keep the Hawks (13-7-1) away.
“I know our defense is pretty strong and solid,” Boren said. “We just had to get one in and then shut (them) down.”
La Cueva, until last year, had never failed to reach at least the state semifinals under Ashcraft.
Volcano Vista was appearing in its seventh straight state semi: two in Class 4A, then four in 5A and now this first season in 6A.
RIO RANCHO 1, CIBOLA 0
(Rams won penalty kicks 5-3)
Cibola 0 0 0 — 0
Rio Rancho 0 0 0 — 0
Scoring: Cheyenne Orozco had game-clinching goal for Rio Rancho. Shots on goal: C 3; RR 2. Corners: C 1; RR 2. Saves: C, Haley Brown 2 (regulation); Dmitri Fong (PKs). RR, Sara Wilmot 3. Records: RR 19-3; C 14-5-2.
LA CUEVA 1, VOLCANO VISTA 0
Volcano Vista 0 0 — 0
La Cueva 0 1 — 1
Scoring: LC, 43rd, Cassie Boren. Shots on goal: VV 8; LC 9. Corners: VV 1; LC 1. Saves: VV, Melissa Mancha 5; LC, Caiti Christiansen 7. Records: LC 18-2; VV 13-7-1.