SANTA ANA PUEBLO — It’s not actually written into the New Mexico Activities Association’s mission statement, but it does appear as though the annual state soccer tournament cannot go on without some combination of Los Alamos, Albuquerque Academy or St. Pius taking part in the final two rounds of the annual event.
All three teams did their part in Wednesday’s Class 4A quarterfinals, winning handily by a combined 18-0 count to set up a Thursday matinee final four that pits No. 1 Academy against No. 4 Los Alamos and No. 3 St. Pius X against No. 2 Hope Christian.
Los Alamos scored three times in the second half of its 4-0 shutout of Aztec. Senior Alix Hailey scored twice in the span of 15 minutes, padding what had been a precarious one-goal margin at the half. Katie Hopkins and Alyssa Parker also scored, with Parker and Kaitlyn McGrane adding assists.
Two other would-be goals sailed just wide when Aztec’s ’keeper came out of the box and had shots roll past an undefended goal.
Hailey’s first goal came in the 43rd minute. She took control of the ball well outside the box and beat her defender one-on-one, lacing a shot that easily found the back of the net. Although it made it just 2-0, it seemed to take the steam out of Aztec’s attack.
“I think we could kind of tell it put them back a little,” Hailey said. “Me, I didn’t play well in the first half and I went back out there really looking for a chance to do something to turn it around.”
The rest of the team did, too, as Parker’s goal came six minutes later, then Hailey’s second score came off a feed from Parker in the 58th minute.
It sets up an Academy-Los Alamos semifinal; a rematch of last year’s championship game. That game was the fourth time in 10 years the programs had met in the finals.
Going back 20 years, the combination of Academy, Los Alamos and St. Pius has been in every championship game since 1998. The only time anyone else got that far was Aztec in 2012 and 2013.
The prospect of facing Academy again is something that carries positive vibes for Los Alamos. The teams met earlier this season with the Chargers rolling to a 5-0 win. At 19-2, they are clearly the top team in 4A.
“If you want to win, you’ve got to beat everybody in front of you,” said Los Alamos head coach Ann Cernicek.
Asked if she’s at all superstitious before moments like Thursday, Cernicek said she’s not. The routine is always the same; team dinner, relaxing night with the players and in bed early. No rituals, nothing outrageous.
“Just relax and maybe, you know, carpe diem [Thursday],” she said.
Hailey said about the only thing out of the ordinary in this instance is having the players retreat into the team captains’ room to hear the seniors and veterans share memorable moments from days gone by. She did say that the one thing missing from her experience as a Lady Hilltopper was the chance to take the final step and head home with a state title, something the program hasn’t done in 15 years.
“The stories and the memories we have, those are my favorite things to talk about,” she said. “Maybe it will be different this time, but just getting here and having the chance to do it one last time is what it’s all about.”