Academy again topples Hilltoppers
Los Alamos still unable to beat Chargers; frustration shows
SANTA ANA PUEBLO — There’s a roadblock between Los Alamos and the blue trophy, and every year it seems to be getting bigger and more difficult to pass.
Its name is Albuquerque Academy.
For what seemed like the 843rd time in a row, “The Roadblock” put a halt to another Los Alamos boys soccer season by beating the Hilltoppers 3-0 in Friday’s Class 4A State Tournament championship match at the New Mexico Soccer Tournament Complex.
It’s the fourth straight year that Academy has ended Los Alamos’ season with a loss. Academy did it three years ago in what was then the Class 5A championship, then again the last two years in the semifinals.
Friday was just the latest rotten turn in what is becoming a frustrating trend that has no signs of letting up. It was enough to get under the skin of the top player on the field, Los Alamos senior Arthur Steinkamp.
The team’s top scorer, he’d poured in five goals in two tournament games en route to the finals. On Friday, he was shadowed by two players of equal or greater size, of equal or greater speed and technique.
“They’re big and physical and, I mean, they’re a private school,” Steinkamp said. “They recruit kids. It’s no secret. I mean, that’s bull. They recruit kids, they get the biggest kids and they just go out and work hard and just put the pressure on us.”
The teams matched in intensity in the first 15 minutes, but it was simply unsustainable for Los Alamos. The tournament’s No. 5 seed, the Toppers were bogging down on defense in the 18th minute as the ball was worked into the box and stayed in there for two blocked shots in front of the net.
The third came off the foot of freshman Neven Zapatka, which found the back of the net at the 17:20 mark.
It started a constant stream of opportunities over the next 23 minutes that produced two shots that bounced off the post and three more that required a diving save or last-second deflection.
The Chargers made it 2-0 at halftime when junior Trevor Dean took a crossing pass in the box from Kenny Levandoski and drove home the second goal.
Oliver Kumar closed out the scoring in the 66th minute. The freshman had just come off the bench and wound up driving home the nail in the Los Alamos … well, you get the point. It’s the same story, year after year, match after match.
“They’re just a good, solid team with fantastic players who get it done,” Los Alamos head coach Ron Blue said. “They won what felt like most of the 50-50 balls, and were a step in front of us all day, but give credit to them. They’re a really good team.”
Blue admitted that this loss stung maybe just a little bit worse than some of the others.
This year’s Hilltoppers, he said, had outstanding chemistry and the players responded well to senior leadership as well as stern coaching.
“The older you get the more you realize there are some things that matter more than others, and things like that mean so much,” Blue said. “It was easy coaching this team and I’m proud of what they did just to get here.”
What the team did was finish 16-7-1 and was undefeated in District 2-4A. The Hilltoppers had a number of quality players, led by Steinkamp. It wasn’t that long ago that he committed to play next season at the University of New Mexico, but now that the school has eliminated men’s soccer, it has left him searching for answers.
“I have no idea where I’m going,” Steinkamp said. “There’s some ideas in my head, but I’ll just go to some of these ID camps and see what’s out there.”
As muddled as his future is, what lies ahead for Los Alamos in 4A next season is crystal clear. Regardless of who suits up for the Hilltoppers, the primary obstacle between themselves and an elusive state title is Albuquerque Academy.
Next season can’t come soon enough.
Los Alamos’ Jared Carnes, right, and Albuquerque Academy’s Oliver Kumar battle for control Friday in the Class 4A State Tournament title game at Santa Ana Pueblo. Academy won 3-0.