FARMINGTON — Hannah Kelley and Payton Sandoval-Belt spent years anchoring the Farmington girls soccer team, and now the duo will continue their soccer careers together at the University of New Mexico.
The seniors, who both cracked the FHS varsity team as eighth graders, on Wednesday afternoon at Farmington High School signed national letters of intent to play for UNM’s women’s soccer team.
Under first-year head coach Heather Dyche, the Lobos went 10-8-2 during the 2015 season and finished third in the Mountain West Conference.
“Coach Dyche and her staff are getting tremendous players who have great work ethic and attitude, and they are going to give their best,” Farmington head coach Shannon Gill said of Kelley and Sandoval-Belt. “Hopefully they’re successful, which I have no doubt they will be.”
Kelley was one of the most dangerous players in 5A this past season, finishing second in goals (35), third in assists (14) and second in total points (84).
“She has really worked on being able to read the game and see where the ball needs to be played,” Gill said of Kelley. “Over the years, from her eighth-grade year to this last season, her goals and assists have really increased. She’s looking to set people up and direct traffic. She’s unselfish, and she doesn’t care who the goal scorer is as long as the ball goes in the back of the goal.”
Kelley earned All-State honors in each of her five years playing for the Lady Scorps. She was a first team selection in 2014 and 2015, landed on the second team in 2012 and 2013, and was an honorable mention in 2011.
While Kelley garnered attention and respect for her scoring prowess, Sandoval-Belt was often the one who initiated the scoring opportunities as the team’s midfield general.
“Payton is going to be able to step in, and with her experience playing in the middle, she’s going to do a tremendous job,” Gill said. “If they keep her in the midfield, she’s going to be able to direct the traffic and see where a forward or another midfielder is opening up. She can control it, start the play and make it happen.”
Sandoval-Belt said she looked at a couple different programs while deciding on where to attend college, but once UNM showed interest, there was no need to continue her search.
“Both of my parents are alumni, and I grew up watching the Lobos and I’ve always aspired to be a Lobo, so when the opportunity came, I wasn’t about to pass it up,” Sandoval-Belt said. “Plus it’s only a couple hours away from home, so I couldn’t imagine a better place for me.”
Kelley’s decision to play at UNM wasn’t as simple as Sandoval-Belt’s, but after making a couple visits to campus she felt it was where she belonged.
“It’s close to home, it’s a really good school and program. They have a really good coaching staff and I like all the girls there, so it was just a really good fit for me,” Kelley said. “It was different going down for the last visit and really trying to figure out if that is where I wanted to go, but I really felt like I fit in there and belong there.”
Sandoval-Belt said she’ll major in biochemistry, and plans to attend medical school to become a surgeon.
Kelley will major in speech pathology, and said she has always wanted to work in special education.
After seeing Kelley and Sandoval-Belt develop and grow as players, along with the success they’ve had with their club team, Rio Rapids, Gill is confident both players will find success at UNM.
“They both came in as scared little eighth graders, and over the years their confidence has increased, as well as their playing and intelligence of the game,” Gill said. “It’s been just phenomenal to watch them, and I’m so proud of them.”
Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.