First season in 6A was rude awakening for Lady Panthers
FARMINGTON — The difficulty of keeping up with New Mexico's elite squads hit the Piedra Vista girls soccer team fast and furious last season.
While dropping their first four District 1-6A matches in 2016 after moving up from 5A, the Lady Panthers were struck by how quick those teams were on the pitch.
"Losing 6-0, 7-0 to the 6A schools, I think that kind of made us recognize, 'Hey, we need to step up our game,'" junior midfielder Madison Cross said, explaining how adept those teams were at ball movement. "It was just new, but after the first couple of games, we got the hang of it."
PV realized it had to match up better with those squads to have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs in 2017.
"They're getting more comfortable with it, more confident with it," coach Adam Huff said of the stiffer competition. "We know what we're facing (now), we know our opponent."
District 1-6A features some of New Mexico's girls soccer heavyweights in Rio Rancho, Cleveland, Volcano Vista and back-to-back state champion Cibola.
"Our first four district games, we had no clue what to expect. We got outscored 21-1, so we knew then we had to change something," junior midfielder Reagan Cordell said. "Once Cibola attacked (in that first match), they just went fast. Everyone was like, 'Oh snap, we've got to get faster and go.'"
Despite the rough start to district play last year, PV went 1-2-1 and allowed just six goals in its last four district matches.
"I think we have adjusted pretty well," Cordell said. "There have been key points in (recent) games where girls have stepped into the ball, got to the ball, took a good touch and made the play happen. We need to get the whole team to play fast."
The Lady Panthers keep working on speed. The drills they work on at practice focus on completing 45 headers in 45 seconds, playing quickly in tighter spaces and making quicker, immediate passes off initial touches.
"(We're) just constantly moving while playing with the ball," Cross said.
That quicker speed of play is serving PV well, and playing speedy teams like Carlsbad early in the season already has reinforced how critical maintaining a faster pace will be from district play onward.
Huff said he'd like to see his squad keep polishing its final one or two passes leading up to shot attempts. That way, shots will be stronger and taken less often from an off-balance position.
"You always want to have possession, but you've got to be able to take that possession and move it into touches into the final third (of the field), combinations and finishing," Huff said.
Piedra Vista (2-1-1) will play host to Valencia at 3 p.m. Friday.
Matt Hollinshead covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.