FARMINGTON — The Farmington High boys soccer team has grown accustomed to competing for state championships.
After winning the 4A title in 2011 and finishing as runner-up in 2012, last year's quarterfinal exit came as a disappointment to head coach Byron Farnsworth and his team. Now, the Scorpions are out for a little redemption in 2014 as they prepare for the 5A season.
Farnsworth will look for a boost in goal scoring after the Scorps finished the season 12th in goals scored in 4A with 46.
"That entire front line will be replaced this year," said the FHS coach, who lost his top four goal scorers to graduation. "That was one our weak points — putting the ball in the back of the net."
Those offensive struggles showed up at the worst time for FHS, as the squad was shut out in a playoff loss to Los Alamos after a 13-7 season that earned the Scorpions the No. 3 seed.
Farnsworth has put his focus on finding a way to boost that scoring punch during the team's summer workouts.
"Offensively, we weren't as successful as we needed to be," he said. "We'll use just a little bit different tactics to allow them to move forward and get involved in the offense."
Defensively, FHS was as good as any team in the state, finishing fourth in goals allowed at just less than one per game.
That defense will return three All-State Honorable Mention players from a year ago — goalkeeper Connor Tornquist and defenders Branson Carter and Andrew Moss.
"We're really deep on defense and returning almost all of the back line," Farnsworth said.
FHS will have to rely on that defense early in the season as the team heads into a loaded non-district schedule.
"We have some good, physical games that prepare us for state," Farnsworth said.
The Scorpions dropped non-district games with Sandia Prep and Cleveland from the schedule to accommodate the addition of Gallup and Miyamura to their district.
FHS defeated Miyamura on two occasions last season during which the Patriots went 15-7 and made the poststeason as the No. 9 seed.
FHS didn't matchup with Gallup last year as the Bengals struggled through a 2-17 season.
Piedra Vista and Aztec will both be looking for playoff bids with first-year coaches.
Pat Denney takes over a Panthers' program that hasn't made the postseason since 2011.
"We definitely have potential," said Denney, whose new team finished 9-10 last year. "We'll be a young squad, and we've just got to get to them all on the same page."
Despite missing the playoffs, the Panthers had early-season success against their new district opponent, Miyamura, a year ago, picking up a 2-1 victory at home in August.
Aztec will enter the season with Steve Scales as its new head coach.
Scales, who has previous coaching experience in Durango, Colo., at the high school and club levels, takes over a team that finished 5-13 last year.
He said his goal was to help establish more of soccer culture within the boys program as he tries to get the Tigers competing for a postseason spot.
"So far, the passion I have and showing them what a true soccer culture is has been going a long way," Scales said.
Aztec split four matches with the Gallup schools a season ago, losing to Miyamura twice and beating the Bengals twice.
Scales said he'll be learning on the fly as he tries to figure out the styles of his four district opponents.
"It's going to be a learning process for me and the players. I haven't really had a look at what their teams do. All I have to go off of is the stats from previous seasons," he said.
In the 4A/A classification, Bloomfield will be the only school competing locally with Kirtland Central, Shiprock and Navajo Prep again not fielding teams.
The Bobcats looked poised to build on a district championship with five All-State players set to return, but a rash of injuries and academic issues have decimated the squad.
Among the injured is Raul Fonseca, who led 3A/A with 26 goals last year. Fonseca suffered an ACL injury during the spring and could miss the entire season.
"We went from a very strong team to a rebuilding team," Bloomfield head coach Jarly Lopez said.
Samuel Gutierrez, who made All-State as an honorable mention forward, also suffered an ACL injury and will miss the season.
The Bobcats also lost two other All-State players for other reasons. Amadio Gonzales, who scored nine goals out of the midfield, is academically ineligible, and defender Gage Kreilick will not return as he turns his attention to his motocross career.
The one All-State player who will be on the field for the Bobcats is Raul's brother, Edgar Fonseca. Edgar Fonseca made the second team as a defender and finished 2013 with eight goals and five assists.
"Edgar will be strong in the midfield. We're going to rely heavily on the experienced back line," Lopez said.
The Bobcats also return goalkeeper Ariel Morales, who helped Bloomfield finish sixth in goals allowed.
Bloomfield will also face a much more difficult task in district play.
The Bobcats finished 10-0 in District 1-3A/A on their way to the No. 7 seed last year, but this season, they'll be pitted against three of the top four teams from 2013 — Sandia Prep, Bosque and Hope Christian.
Sandia Prep defeated Bosque 3-1 in the 3A/A title game last year. Hope made the semifinals before losing to Bosque.
Lopez knows it will be tough in district play but said he plans on having the team ready.
"If we win about 10 games, I feel confident we'll make it to state," he said. "Hopefully, having a tough district helps our ranking."