Robertson denied in title bid
Fast start backfires as Sandia Prep gets early goals
SANTA ANA PUEBLO — Five years is a long time between state titles, especially when it’s Albuquerque Sandia Prep doing the waiting.
Of course, that’s nothing compared to never for Las Vegas Robertson.
Both teams played the opening minutes of Friday’s Class 1A/3A State Boys Soccer Championship at a frenetic pace, but it played into the Sundevils’ hands. A pair of goals in the first 10 minutes gave Sandia Prep all the cushion it needed, as it went on to a 3-0 win at the New Mexico Soccer Tournament Complex.
The win gave the Sundevils (15-8) their first state title since 2013 and their 17th overall. The reward for Robertson, though, is that the program is now relevant in small-school soccer.
The program nabbed its first district title in eight years in 2017 before making a spirited run to the finals this season.
Robertson senior defender Brandon Larrañaga remembers the plight of the program when he moved up to the varsity late in the 2014 season as an eighthgrader.
“The first time I played in a varsity match, we got mercy ruled,” Larrañaga said. “Over the years, we’ve really grown and developed as a team, and we have a big group of players who are juniors and seniors. We’ve all grown together, we’ve come up together. We expanded and matured a lot in our game.”
Still, it was a different experience for the Cardinals (15-6), who were greeted by a crowd of about 200, and even the Robertson pep band made the trip, playing the school fight song several times throughout the match.
The pageantry might have been too much for them to absorb in the moment, which might have led to the early frenetic pace.
“It’s way different when you have these crowds, and there is everything on the line and it’s the end of the season,” Larrañaga said. “I think we let that get into our heads a little bit instead of playing relaxed.”
It took all of 4 minutes before the Sundevils struck, as Lucas Sandoval
stole the ball from Telon Trudell Mills deep in the Robertson side and dumped it off for Brian Altavas, who flicked it past Josue Garcia into the lower right of the goal.
Two minutes later, Michael Martinez sent a ball over the top of the Robertson defense for Sandoval to chase down. He collided with an onrushing Garcia, but Sandoval kneed the ball past Garcia and into the open net for a 2-0 lead.
“It was really important to get that head start on them, and just shut them down,” said Sandoval, who added other goal late in the second half. “They are definitely a tough challenge for us, but we were able to come out strong and just win it.”
The quick goals changed Robertson’s game plan, as it had to find a way to score and take back some momentum — sort of like how it beat Monte del Sol 3-2 after falling behind 2-1.
But the Sundevils were quick enough and strong enough to mark midfielder T.J. Trujillo and forward Musah Dumbia and keep them in check.
It forced the rest of the Cardinals to try and take more of a leading role in creating scoring chances.
“Sometimes, when the rest of our team just switches off, it makes things difficult,” Larrañaga said. “The other team knows how to handle them at this point. And they’ve played us twice already.”
Robertson beat Sandia Prep 1-0 at home on Oct. 13.
Tommy Smith, longtime Sundevils head coach, said the team was without two players and it struggled to control the midfield in a more compact field.
The wider spaces at the complex played into the Sundevils’ favor, and they controlled possession and the pace of the match.
“It’s easier to get their attention when you’ve lost to them already,” Smith said. “They played well up there, and we struggled. We weren’t able to get our guys free, but we learned a lot about them.”
And like any well-seasoned team, Sandia Prep exploited what it learned.
Besides, five years was a long enough wait for another blue trophy.
Robertson is now relevant in small-school soccer. The program nabbed its first district title in eight years in 2017 before making a spirited run to the finals this season.
Sandia Prep’s Ethan Pratt, right, heads the ball over Robertson’s TJ Trujillo on Friday during the championship of the boys Class 1A/3A State Soccer Tournament at Santa Ana Pueblo. Robertson lost, 3-0.