FARMINGTON— From top to bottom, District 1-4A/A might be the best and toughest in New Mexico high school girls soccer.
Of the 12 teams to make last season's 3A/A playoffs, five came out of District 1, including Hope Christian, the reigning 3A/A state champions, and Sandia Prep, whom Hope Christian beat in the state championship 3-1. Other teams from the District that made last season's playoffs are Bloomfield, Bosque and Rehoboth Christian.
Those five teams alone would make District 1 intimidating enough, but after the recent reclassification of schools, Kirtland Central is added to the mix.
Kirtland Central, which competed at the 4A level last year, stays in the new 4A/A class this season.
"Our district hasn't changed that much," said KCHS head coach Lionel Camacho regarding the change of class and competition. "We still have the state champs and runner up from last year in 3A in our district. Our district hasn't gotten any easier, and it's going to be a tough test getting past some of the private schools for us to get to our goal of a state championship."
The Lady Broncos return last year's top goal scorer, senior striker Deena Charley, who scored 26 times in her 16 game appearances.
"Without a doubt she'll be the playmaker and be the difference maker for us in a lot of games this year," Camacho said of Charley.
Kirtland Central also returns the strength of last year's back line, which allowed just 1.6 goals per game.
Included in the Lady Broncos defense are senior sweeper, Arriana Thompson, an All-District Second Team selection last year who will miss the first portion of the season due to injury, and senior keeper Cadra Guillory, who earned All-District honorable mention for her work between the pipes.
While Kirtland Central has a game-changer up front, and experience protecting the goal, the question mark that surrounds the Lady Broncos heading into their season opener at Friday's Aztec Tournament is in the midfield.
Camacho said the midfield took the biggest hit from graduation, and he is looking for some of the young players moving up in the program to develop and produce.
"We're kind of young," said Camacho, who lost three First Team All-District selection to graduation. "I know that it will be a rebuilding year for us, but that will be good because I know we have a lot talent coming up through the program."
Bloomfield, who started the season 2-9 before going 7-3 in district play to earn the No. 12 seed in the playoffs, returns the bulk of last year's team, only losing four players to graduation.
Set to return to the pitch for the Lady Bobcats are All-District First Team selections Teagan Mosley and Vanessa Harris.
Last season, as a freshman, Mosley led Bloomfield in goals scored, finding the net 14 times and adding four assists while appearing in all 21 matches.
Harris, entering her freshman season, led the Lady Bobcat defense with 72 steals last year from her sweeper position.
"Teagan really just improved as a player. She has become a lot more versatile and has been improving in the different positions that she'll be playing," said Bloomfield head coach Kate Dunlap. "For Vanessa, we're expecting greatness out of her this season in her ability to disrupt play as a tenacious defender."
The Lady Bobcats will rely heavily another underclassman this season in sophomore keeper Alison Troutman, who earned an All-District honorable mention last season in a time-sharing role.
Returning in the midfield for Bloomfield is senior Anani Orozco, who joined Mosley and Harris as an All-State honorable mention and earned praise from Dunlap for her improvement and ability to control the field during the first weeks of practice.
Among the strength and depth of District 1 is Navajo Prep, which may be the district's biggest question mark entering the season.
The Eagles, who finished last season with a 1-18 record, return an experienced core that has impressed head coach Stacy Irwin during preseason workouts.
"I'm excited about this season, we have some new players coming in who should be good for us," Irwin said. "And during two-a-days our returning players have really pleased me with their development."
Last year, Navajo Prep's defense was under constant pressure, but with the addition of a few new players in the midfield, Irwin believes the Lady Eagles will be much improved on both sides of the ball.
"Last year they were stretched pretty thin," Irwin said of the Eagle defense, "but with the added help in the midfield, it should take some pressure off of them."
Being able to better control the midfield and maintain possession will allow for more scoring opportunities for the Eagle attack, which is led by All-District honorable mention forwards Brittany Arviso and Darien Nelson.
Navajo Prep's goal for the 2014 season is to compete in district and crack the playoff picture, but the strength of District 1 won't make it easy for the Eagles.
"I know we're in a tough district with the realignment, adding Kirtland Central and Bloomfield, who are two good teams," Irwin said. "It's going to be tough for everyone."