There was a moment during the second half of Tuesday’s state tournament win over Sandia Prep where Alfonso Camarena let his emotions percolate to the surface.
Then again, that’s nothing new.
After imploring his team to work the ball to the middle of the field and set up for a shot from just outside the box, the St. Michael’s girls soccer coach broke into a slide-step to his right as he watched the ball rocket off the foot of one of his players, sail through traffic and into the back of the net for a goal.
As it did, he skipped sideways on his left foot, holding his right fist high above his head as he cheered just as loudly as any of his players or fans.
“I get excited a lot,” Camarena said with a laugh when asked about his playful outburst. “Watching my team play like this, it makes it easy to get excited.”
It was a moment of exultation that has played itself out time and again this season for a team that has pushed all the right buttons and had nearly everything go right. At 7-0-1, the Lady Horsemen’s undefeated season comes to an end, for better or worse, in Thursday’s Class 1A/3A state championship match at the UNM Soccer Complex in Albuquerque.
St. Michael’s will face No. 3 seed Socorro (7-3-1) in the finals. The Lady Horsemen are seeking their first state championship in 12 years, and fourth overall.
To get there, they’ll carry the momentum of a balanced attack. A dozen players have scored at least one goal this season.
“That’s one of the best things about this team,” said sophomore forward Grace Sandoval, one of five players on the team who has scored at least four goals. “We have some great players, but I think there are a lot who can score when we need it.”
No one has found the back of the net more often than freshman Elsa Ranney Smith. One of her team-high 10 goals, Camarena said, came on a twisting corner kick that curved around the defense and into the net. She nearly did the same thing in the state semifinal win against Sandia Prep, only to have the ball carom hard off the front post and back into the field of play.
Stop her and you have to deal with senior Rachael Morgan or classmate Olivia Farrar, perhaps sophomore Farrah Baker — or literally more than a half-dozen others. The Lady Horsemen come at opponents in waves, never making it easy on opponents looking to shut down any single element.
Even if teams manage to reduce it to a defensive slugfest, no one does defense better than the Lady Horsemen. They’ve only allowed one goal all season.
“I think when we communicate and, you know, play the way we know we can, we can stop just about everyone,” said goalkeeper Milena Keene, the team’s veritable vacuum cleaner between the posts.
It’s all enough to make Camarena want to keep that celebratory dance party handy just in case.
“It’s been so long since we have won a state championship,” he said after his team earned its spot in Thursday’s finals. “So close so many times. A lot of painful losses. Now we have a chance to get the ending we all want.”
See you at high noon on UNM’s pitch.
Private matter: No public school has won the state’s Class 1A/3A girls championship since Los Alamos in 1998. Since then, the championship game has featured only private schools in 18 of the last 21 tournaments, the lone exceptions being Taos in 2011 and Socorro in 2017 and 2019.
Sandia Prep has won the state’s small-school crown nine times in that span, with Hope Christian winning it on five occasions. St. Michael’s has won three times and Santa Fe Prep twice. The others went to Bosque and St. Pius.
Family affair: The St. Michael’s roster has a pair of sister combinations, each of which as a senior and an underclassman.
The Schneider sisters are Frances and Tara. Frances is a senior midfielder and forward who has scored one goal with four assists. Her younger sister Tara is a freshman whose lone goal this season came against Monte del Sol.
The Farrar sisters are Olivia and Gabrielle, although it should be noted that their last name has been misspelled all season on the team’s MaxPreps.com page. It has shown them as the ‘Farrah’ sisters since the roster first appeared in the preseason.
Olivia is a senior midfielder and forward, while Gabrielle is a sophomore defender and midfielder. Olivia is one of the team’s leading offensive threats, scoring six goals to go along with three assists. Gabrielle has yet to score but, according to Camarena, been a huge part of the team’s defensive success.