Battle for District 1-4A boys soccer crown will be heated
KIRTLAND — As was the case in the shortened 2021 spring boys soccer season, it figures to be a dogfight again for supremacy in District 1-4A.
The Kirtland Central Broncos, with an overall record of 5-3-3 last season, edged the Bloomfield and Aztec teams to advance into the postseason. The Bobcats wound up with a better district record of 4-1 while the Tigers finished 4-2 within the district, but the Broncos, with the better overall record, represented the district in the state tournament.
The Broncos are coming off back-to-back seasons with the district crown, both times resulting in early exits in the state boys soccer tournament. In both 2019 and 2021's spring season, Kirtland Central's team found themselves on the wrong end of first-round losses to Lovington.
Head coach Leonel Camacho knows that defending those district titles will be a tough act to follow.
"Those were tough matches the last two postseasons," Camacho said of the back-to-back playoff losses to Lovington. "We lost a bunch of seniors after last season and we've got a pretty young squad coming back."
Camacho also admitted that the numbers on the roster are still a little too soft for his liking coming into the season.
"We're having some trouble getting kids coming back," Camacho said. "Even now, there's worries of kids getting sick, so everything is still up in the air."
With the season set to begin this weekend, the Broncos will lean heavily on the leadership of senior Jeremiah Eaton.
"(Eaton) will be someone who will take on that role because of his experience," Camacho said.
Last season's top scorer Kyler Joe, a multi-sport athlete who also participated in wrestling and track last season, will also be called upon to be a big factor this season.
"(Joe) is just a good all-around athlete, so I'm hoping for more big things from him."
Aztec's boys soccer team will be one of several challengers for Kirtland Central's district crown.
The Tigers will be bringing back some key components of last season, including five returning seniors, specifically David Miller and Skyler Bouren.
"They were essential players for us last season, and we think they'll only benefit more from getting back to a regular schedule and having that conditioning in them," Miller said.
Miller expressed optimism that the hurdles the team went through last season were a positive learning experience.
"We did some really good things last season," Miller said. "We overcame a lot because of the closures during the early part of the school year. We were out of shape coming into practice, there just weren't many opportunities to practice."
Miller said that despite the late start to the season, the team came together quickly.
"It took a few weeks for us to get back into shape, and there were injury issues as a result," Miller said. "Over the course of the second half of the season, we got really good results in time of possession."
Miller was also excited about the potential of new goalkeeper Jedidiah Jones, who also played last season on the Aztec boys basketball team.
"He's really athletic and has good instincts," Miller said of Jones. "I think he's going to make a big difference for us."
Bloomfield soccer coach Scott Reid said the strength of his team will come from its youth with more than a dozen players on their roster entered in their junior year or younger.
"We're young, but we've got a very good youth soccer program, so I'm hopeful that these kids can step up to the occasion."
Four of the five teams in District 1-4A will get their first looks at one another this weekend when the Tigers host the Aztec shootout at the Tiger Sports Complex beginning Friday at 8 a.m.
Kirtland Central will tackle Farmington in the opening match before Bosque takes on Grants. The winners of those matches will move on to the semifinals on Saturday.
On the flipside of the bracket, Piedra Vista will match up against Bloomfield before Aztec challenges Miyamura on Friday.
The championship match for the boys tournament is scheduled for Saturday at 6 p.m.
"It's a big tournament and a chance for all of us to get a good look at one another," Miller said.
District 1-4A championships may be a tall task for both Gallup and Miyamura, both of whom are coming off back-to-back losing seasons. Gallup is still looking for their first district win in three seasons while Miyamura was outscored by a 37-11 margin last season.
Steve Bortstein can be reached via email at SBortstein@Gannett.com, via Twitter @DTSBortstein or on the phone at (505) 635-2680