FARMINGTON — The Aztec girls soccer team will be the squad the rest of District 1-5A is looking to overthrow in 2015.
A lot of change surrounds the Lady Tigers this season. New head coach Kelly Kelso is taking charge of a team that must deal with the loss of nine seniors from last year's group that won the District 1-5A crown with an 8-0 record.
By no means did Aztec coast to the district title in 2014, but repeating in 2015 appears to be a much more challenging task.
"It's going to be tough," Kelso said of the District 1-5A race. "Farmington is definitely going to be tough with everyone back, and PV is capable of being extremely tough. I have a good idea of where we're at, but it's kind of hard to tell until you play someone else."
Among those lost from last year's team are 2014 first-team All-State selections Hailie Morris and Sarah Root.
"The biggest adjustment we have is the back line after Sarah (Root) and Rikki (Newland) graduated," Kelso said. "There's been a lot of movement, but we have a lot of girls who can play."
In trying to replace Root and Newland on the back line, Kelso moved juniors Kylie Brown and Stacie Sutherlin from outside back to center back to anchor the defense.
Aztec will return a handful of All-State honorable mention selections, including, Brown, Grace Olson, Paige Adair and Lece Aviles, but maybe the biggest piece Aztec has back is senior goalkeeper Elena Kresl, who Kelso said may be the best keeper in the state.
Trying to knock Aztec from the top of the district will be Farmington and Piedra Vista.
Farmington listed no seniors on its 2014 roster and thus will enter 2015 with an experienced, senior-laden team.
"The experience everyone received last year is tremendous, and we're looking forward to that experience paying off," FHS head coach Shannon Gill said. "It's a unique situation that we find ourselves in, but we need to keep improving and pressing because we're never going to be good enough. We're never going to be perfect, and we want to always be improving and getting better. The experiences and knowledge from last year is going to be a huge benefit for us."
Leading the way for the Lady Scorps will be 2014 first-team All-State forward and midfielder Hannah Kelly, along with second-team selections Alissa Montoya, Arin Coleman and Riley Coleman.
The trio of Kelly, Montoya and Arin Coleman combined for 50 of the team's 71 goals and 30 of 38 assists in 2014.
Gill said one of the benefits of so many returners is that everyone knows their role and what is expected of them.
"I'll just put it plain and simple: I expect that every time the girls come out on the field, they play to the best of their ability," Gill said. "Whether that's for practice or a game, I expect them to work hard, and that work ethic will pay dividends."
Graduation hit PV's defense hard, and the Lady Panthers will need to replace second-team All-State midfielder Jenna Brown, and All-State honorable mentions Sarah Engert at keeper and Kendra Smith at defender.
PV head coach Adam Huff said he moved a few players from midfield to the back line, including senior Tyra Garcia, to solidity the defense.
"I don't think it will be that big of an adjustment," Huff said of the moves. "The biggest thing is they need to learn how to play together."
While PV is moving pieces around to better the defense, the bulk of its offense is back to hopefully take some pressure of its defenders.
Leading goal scorer Cydnie Stock, who netted eight goals in her freshman campaign, will return to lead the offense, along with incoming freshman Madison Cross and senior Hayden Carpenter, who scored seven and six goals in 2014, respectively.
"I expect them to put it in the back of the net every chance they get because we need them to produce goals," Huff said. "I told them I have high expectations for them."
After finishing third in the district last season, PV loaded the first half of its schedule to help get ready for the challenge Aztec and FHS present in district play.
"We're looking forward to going up against FHS and Aztec," Huff said. "There are some rivalries that are starting to get bigger with Aztec and Farmington. We want to be playing on that level and hopefully surpass them."
Aztec and PV will start their seasons today at the Lady Tiger Shootout at the Aztec Sports Complex. Aztec will face Miyamura at 8 a.m., and PV will open against Desert Academy at noon.
Farmington's season gets underway Saturday at Los Alamos.