Two good feet are better than one on the soccer pitch, Amberly Garcia learned in the offseason.
The growth of Garcia’s skills demanded that the sophomore striker for Academy for Technology and the Classics to use her left foot just as much — if not as well — as her more trusted right. Leave it to teammate Maggie Rittmeyer to help her with it.
“She was telling me how to work with the ball more,” Garcia said. “Maggie’s dad taught me [ball handling] the way he taught [Maggie and her freshman sister, Lily]. It also helped me with a stronger kick. I have more force with my kicks now.”
In turn, the offseason training made her more of a force around the goal. Garcia leads the Phoenix with 19 goals and recorded at least a hat trick in four matches this season. She is one of many reasons ATC is sitting at 9-1-2 overall and is leading District 1-1A/3A with a 1-0-1 mark.
Phoenix head coach Eddy Segura said he knew the team would make the leap toward district contention because all but one player returned from last year’s team that reached the Class 1A/3A State Tournament for the first time in program’s 10-year history. Garcia is just one example of a player who made significant strides.
“I am not really surprised,” Segura said. “She has a lot of potential and she is doing things in a better way than where she was last year.”
Last year, Garcia had just five goals and three assists, while fellow striker Xitlally Estrada Perez led the team with 12 goals. Garcia said her maturity as a player played a big part in her transformation.
“I’ve been playing the same position since I started playing when I was 7,” Garcia said. “But striker is challenging because the girls [on the opposing team] know that I’m fast, and it’s pretty challenging because I get doubled. Our mids [midfielders] know that I can outrun the defense and they just need to give me a step on the lead pass.”
If anything, Garcia’s success is merely an extension of the Phoenix. Segura said the players worked out in the summer to work on their chemistry as well as their skills.
He emphasized the workouts knowing that the season is short and using the first half of the season to learn how to play together again would set them back.
“There is only two months [to the season] and it goes by fast,” Segura said. “If you don’t start strong then you can be a little weak. So they were ready when I started drawing up plays and letting the girls know what positions they were going to play.”
Segura said the key to the Phoenix’s success so far has been their passing and knowing where to go on the field. There aren’t a lot of players standing around waiting for the ball to come to them, Segura said, and it helps create openings for just about everybody. He pointed to the play and leadership of Rittmeyer and Amberly’s twin sister, Kimberly Garcia, for getting the rest of the team involved.
Garcia noticed that early in the preseason.
“We have so much more ball-handling experience than we did last year,” Amberly Garcia said.
As a result, nine players have at least two goals so far, and four have at least five. Amberly Garcia, though, had the biggest breakthrough. She scored a career-high four goals in the season opener against Pojoaque Valley on Aug. 28, then followed that with a hat trick against Santa Fe Indian School on Sept. 3.
Amberly Garcia has scored a goal in all but three matches this season. Ironically, two of them were big matchups against quality sides — a 2-0 win over Santa Fe Prep on Sept. 10 and a 2-all tie with Taos on Sept. 19. The win over the Blue Griffins was a first for the program. The tie with the Lady Tigers came against a team that is ranked ninth in 4A in the Freeman rankings on MaxPreps.com — which are used by the New Mexico Activities Association for seeding and selecting teams for the postseason.
As ATC’s profile rose, so has the intensity level of matches as the season progressed. That was never more apparent than in a 6-0 win over Rehoboth on Oct. 3. The Lady Lynx grew more flummoxed as the Phoenix built upon a 2-0 halftime lead, and it led to more physical play.
Garcia said she and her teammates handled the situation well.
“You can see more teams are getting frustrated with us,” Garcia said. “It’s something we just have to ignore.”
It’s hard to ignore what Garcia and the Phoenix have done so far — and they haven’t stopped growing yet.