Lady Horsemen fall 1-0 to Sandia Prep in state title game
It was a three-peat, no matter how you sliced it Friday afternoon.
For the third straight November, the Albuquerque Sandia Prep Lady Sundevils raised a championship blue trophy.
For the third match this season, the top seed in the Class 1A/3A State Tournament beat No. 6 St. Michael’s 1-0, this time at the New Mexico Soccer Tournament Complex.
For the first time in this tournament, Kiran Hill could look at the stat sheet and know she contributed much more to Sandia Prep’s win than by merely being a scoring threat. When St. Michael’s turned the ball over in the midfield at the 50-minute mark, the Lady Sundevils (17-4-2) found the eighth-grader streaking down the middle of the field, and she rolled her shot to the right lower right corner past Milena Keene for the only goal.
It was Hill’s first goal of the state tournament, and one she desperately wanted, just to get the moment over with.
“It was pretty nerve-wracking, but when I scored, it all dropped,” Hill said. “I was really happy. In the other games, I was really scared because when I would run the ball, and I was really confused on how to run it. Then, I freaked out and I didn’t score. This time, I didn’t freak out and I scored.”
Sandia Prep head coach Matt Westerlund could tell Hill’s nerves were on edge Wednesday during 4-0 quarterfinal win over Las Vegas Robertson.
“She had eight shots on goal and nothing,” Westerlund said. “But then, she got a little calmer today and calm again to put some key goals on the board.”
In a tight, defensive battle, that one St. Michael’s error, coupled with a moment of clarity by Hill, was the
“It’s just one mistake on us,” junior midfielder Daisy Smith said. “Hopefully, we can fix that next time.”
The Lady Sundevils dominated possession for much of the match, and it took a strong effort from the Lady Horsemen back line and Keene to keep the match from getting out of hand. St. Michael’s (16-7-1) also struggled to form any kind of possession on its end, as passes that were intended to go where teammates were supposed to go instead ended up at the feet of Sandia Prep defenders and midfielders.
“It’s a very young team, and they’re still learning,” Lady Horsemen head coach Anthony Cassaro said. “It’s a short season, but we still have some ways to go.”
When the Lady Sundevils took the lead, Westerlund changed his lineup to make it more defensive-minded, anticipating a push from St. Michael’s.
That didn’t happen until the 70th minute when Cassaro instructed his players to attack the Lady Sundevils side more.
Before that, the Lady Horsemen had its only recorded shot on goal when Smith let loose from 45 yards that landed in Sandia Prep goalkeeper Samantha Jeffries’ hands in the 60th minute.
“It was a game of cat and mouse,” Westerlund said. “And I was quite surprised because we were anticipating that when we went up one. I instructed my center midfielder Alex Forrester that we need to drop [Jacqueline Rodriguez] back, and she’s our leading scorer.”
That tactic worked as St. Michael’s never got a shot on goal over the final 10 minutes. Westerlund had high praise for the Lady Horsemen, who won seven of their last eight matches heading into the finals.
“We played [Albuquerque Academy], we played [St.] Pius, we played Hope Christian, but I am serious in saying St. Mike’s was the strongest team we played all year,” Westerlund said.
And that should continue into next season. St. Michael’s loses six seniors, but a host of underclassmen and eighth-graders return with tournament experience. The Lady Horsemen also will get an offseason to learn Cassaro’s system better after he was hired in late June and had just a couple of months with the team. “It will be a massive help, and hopefully, we have some young girls coming in that will give us a boost,” Cassaro said.
St. Michael’s Frances Schneider drives the ball game against Sandia Prep on Friday in the Girls Class 1A/3A State Tournament at Santa Ana Pueblo. The Lady Horsemen lost, 1-0.
St. Michael’s senior Claire Lee, left, battles Sandia Prep’s Lauryn Biddle on Friday in the state tournament at Santa Ana Pueblo. The Lady Horsemen lost, 1-0.