SO CLOSE

Lady Horse­men fall 1-0 to San­dia Prep in state ti­tle game

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

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

dif­fer­ence.

“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.

GABRIELA CAM­POS/THE NEW MEX­I­CAN

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.

GABRIELA CAM­POS/THE NEW MEX­I­CAN

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.

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