Robert­son de­nied in ti­tle bid

Fast start back­fires as San­dia Prep gets early goals

Santa Fe New Mexican - - SPORTS - By James Bar­ron jbar­ron@sfnewmex­i­can.com

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.

GABRIELA CAM­POS/THE NEW MEX­I­CAN

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.

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