AZTEC — A year after coming one win shy of bringing home the first girls' soccer state championship in school history, an experienced Aztec Lady Tigers team is ready to make another run at the title.
Though Aztec graduated four key seniors from the 2012 team, the Lady Tigers have a wealth of experience starting in the midfield and the forward positions this year. Head coach Stephen Parks said players such as Kassia Barber, Sarah Root, Kayleigh Farnsworth and Rikki Newland have also stepped up to fill the defensive positions vacated by graduated players.
"We wanted to make sure our defense would still be solid and we could keep the ball out of the box," Parks said. "We hope our offense can keep doing what it did last year and get a bunch of shots that will find the net."
Jessica Kresl and Hailey Morris lead a strong attack offensively for the Lady Tigers. Morris scored 22 goals last season, and Kresl scored 11 in 2012 and 22 in 2011.
"We try to move the ball all the way around the field and switch it up to make us hard to defend," said senior midfielder Kayli Farmer. "As long as we keep the ball moving and take a bunch of shots, we will be fine."
Aztec has six seniors and six juniors returning from last year's varsity roster. The 3-1 loss to Albuquerque Academy in last year's state championship game has been on the players' minds since the Nov. 10 defeat.
"It is pretty much all we talk about," said senior midfielder Morgan Smith. "We talk about what it will take and how we will have to pick it up this year and work as hard as we can to win that championship."
Parks knows winning District 1-4A will be a battle, and he expects Albuquerque Academy and St. Pius X to be in the running for the 4A state title again this year.
"Our district is always tough no matter what. Every team will make state again and represent very well," Parks said.
Farmer said this year's group of seniors can make history for Aztec if they can deliver a state title this year.
"We really want to win state. The seniors are super motivated and excited. We want to take the team that far and win state soccer for the first time ever," she said. "The girls did it last year in track and field, and we want to do it again this year in soccer."
Coach: Shannon Gill, eighth season
Last year's finish: 12-12, 3-3 District 1-4A
Key returners: Ashton Staley, Katelynn Flack, Caroline Moss and Hannah Kelley
New additions: Three eighth graders, one freshman and 10 sophomores
Season outlook: "We are very anxious to play. Opening with Los Alamos is always tough, but hopefully we have done a few different things this preseason, and we will be ready for them. We don't play at home until Sept. 17, and we only have six home games. We are going to have to be road warriors. We are relatively young, but we are experienced. We are looking to our three seniors for guidance and for another big year from Hannah Kelley. I would love for more girls to contribute in the scoring, but we are looking to Hannah for another (20-plus) goal season. I have been blessed with good girls in goal for a while, and we have a good keeper to replace (Ellae Montoya). We won't be too bad back there at all. Our district has earned respect from the coaches in Albuquerque, and I don't see why all four of us won't be in state again." -- Shannon Gill
Coach: Leonel Camacho, fourth year
Last year's finish: 15-7 overall, 3-3 District 1-4A
Key returners: Zoey Hooper, Kanani Tapaha, Kendra Stock, Temerae Blackwater and Tosharra Villegas
New additions: Tamia Maryboy, Deena Charley, Cadra Guillory, Nikki Begay and Phyliss Kitseallyboy
Season outlook: "We are going to be good. We only lost two seniors, and we definitely expect to be contenders for the district title again. This is our last year in 4A before we go to 3A next year. We want to go out being the district champs for sure. There is only one district better than ours and that is the one with Albuquerque Academy and St. Pius X. Being in our district is a great thing and has made our girls tougher. We have first-team all state player Zoey Hooper back, and we hope she adds to her total of 20 goals last season. We have Cadra Guillory in goal this year, and she has a strong presence. She is tall and will intimidate forwards." -- Leonel Camacho
Coach: Shaun Taylor, 3rd year
Last year's finish: 11-11 overall, 1-5 District 1-4A
Key Returners: Jenna Brown, Peyton Pigford, Megan Roth,Taylor McPheeters and Toni Taylor
Season Outlook: "Kids are competing for starting positions at this point. We are very young, and even the seniors aren't guranteed starting spots. As a team, we are going to have to work hard to stay in a lot of games and win a lot. We are not exceptional in any one spot. We should be competitive again in our district, and our district is strong enough that all four of us should absolutely make the tournament again." -- Shaun Taylor
Coach: Kate Dunlap, first year
Last year's finish: 6-15, 5-5 District 1-A-AAA
Key returners: Brandy Cooper, Monica Castillo and Hailey Wethington
New additions: Teagan Mosley and Bree Parrish
Season outlook: "We would love to reach state this year, but we are taking it one game at a time. We want to win one game and move to the next. We are working hard on our communication and our conditioning. We want to do a lot of running and outperform the other teams in running. The varsity girls are excited and pumped up for the season. With Monica Castillo, Ashley Martinez and Hailey Wethington, we will have a really talented back line." -- Kate Dunlap
Coach: Stacy Irwin, third year
Last year's finish: 3-7, 0-8 District 4-A-AAA
Key returners: Alisha Kirk, Tristan Barbone, Jazmine Kinsel and Kayla Roybal
New additions: Samantha Dennison, Cameron Grayeyes, Terra Yazzie and Alyssa Whiterock
Season outlook: "Our defense is going to be strong with a lot of returners and Kirk as my goal keeper. The midfield is going to be a work in progress, and that was our weak spot last year. Sydni Sky Ancira is going to be good for us at forward. Our goal this year is to get fourth in district and try to make the first round of state. Our district is really tough with Hope Christian, Sandia Prep and Bosque all in there along with Rehoboth." -- Stacy Irwin.John Livingston can be reached at email@example.com; 505-564-4648. Follow him on Twitter @jlivi2.