Los Lunas High School
First-year coaches often inherit programs that need rebuilding, but that is not the case for Los Lunas High School girls’ soccer coach Jorge Tarango.
“My expectations are pretty high. It’s a really strong group,” Tarango said. “Not only are they knowledgeable with what we need to do on the field, they are a respectful, smart group.”
The Tigers were 13-7 overall, with a 6-4 district record, just missing out on the playoffs last season. After losing only two seniors, the Tigers anticipate making the playoffs in 2022.
Junior center/forward Mia Carbajal-Hartog believes “100 percent” the Tigers will qualify for state because of excellent team balance.
“Our midfielders are strong at transition, our wings are fast, our strikers know how to get up there and our keeper (sophomore Haylee Driscoll) is tough as nails,” Carbajal-Hartog said.
Tarango said Los Lunas has a big group of core players returning, with talent at every position.
“We are really sound from our goal keeping all the way to the attacking side. Midfield is the most loaded, so rotations are really strong,” Tarango said.
The most inexperienced unit is the defense, with only two seniors, including Odalys Montes. However, she is clear about the talent.
“I think this is the strongest team. I think we can make it to the state final,” Montes said, citing the teams chemistry and depth.
As a first year head coach, Tarango admits it has been a little nerve-wracking learning the process to run a program. His experience last season as an assistant helped, and as a former Tiger player, he wants to represent the community well.
“I have great memories and I want to provide the girls with the same,” he said.
Los Lunas opened the season Tuesday at Valencia, pulling away in the second half for a 3-0 victory.
The Tigers are in district 5-5A with Santa Fe High, Albuquerque High, Manzano, Rio Grande and Capital.
Valencia High School
Reaching the playoffs has become an expectation for the Valencia High School girls’ soccer team, but the Jaguars have their eyes set on doing more damage once they get there.
Valencia was 11-9 overall last season, including a first round playoff victory over Bloomfield and a 3-1 loss to Hope Christian in the second round.
Coach Kimberly Chavez-Burkhard has been leading the Valencia program since the school opened in 2006, and the Jags have been competitive year in and year out.
“We usually make it to the first round of the playoffs,” Chavez-Burkhard said. “Getting to the second round has been more challenging. We’ve hit it, but I want to go beyond that. I think these girls, if they are pushed, can do it.”
Offensively, Chavez-Burkhard expects senior Morgan Sanchez, the top returning scorer, to have more opportunities after putting 14 balls into the back of the net last season.
Sanchez believes there is an excellent support system at Valencia and, “I have a really good feeling about this year. We’re really close. I’m excited. As a team, I think we’re going to be really strong.”
Despite the optimism, there are adjustments that need to be made after losing key players on defense.
“We lost most of our backline and defense, so we’re moving girls around to fill those positions,” coach Chavez-Burkhard said.
The anchor of that defense returns in goalkeeper Kylee Ashley-Kurtz, an all-state selection in 2021.
“I’m a bit worried,” Ashley-Kurtz admits, but “we’ve got some girls who can switch back and forth. So I feel like we have got a backline, but we still need to work on it.”
The Jaguars opened the season Tuesday at home against Los Lunas, a 3-0 loss. Valencia is in District 5-4A with Belen, Highland, St. Pius and Grants.
Belen High School
After a difficult 2021 season, the Belen High School girls’ soccer team is looking forward and not back.
Despite coming off a one win season, the Eagles are upbeat. Head coach Ernest Gonzales believes a 500 record is within reach.
“I think we’ll be able to compete this year,” Gonzales said. “The girls play hard.”
Gonzales, the head coach since 2020, points toward increased numbers in the program, the most he has seen in at least ten years. There will be enough players to fill rosters for varsity and junior varsity squads.
Gonzales is also pleased that a youth league is starting up in Belen.
“It’s hard to get a program growing without a youth program in town,” the coach said. “We’re teaching them a lot of basic stuff right now, but they’re catching on.”
The Eagles are young but they do have some experience with senior midfielder and captain Angelez Chaparro, who says the team has bonded quickly.
“It’s going to help us a lot with communicating, with who is open and who is not, where to look for space and stuff,” Chapparo said.
Defensively, the Eagles will be counting on junior Arianna Martinez and newcomer Jadarose Wright. In the midfield, sophomore Avery Carter is expected to play a key role.
As the team practices in nearly 100 degree heat, Chaparro looks forward to playing games that count and getting the young players ready.
“I think we have a lot of new girls. We are very young,” Chaparro said. “I think we’re going to be really good this year.”
Gonzales says the priorities for the program are to compete in the classroom, compete with maximum effort on the field and let the wins and losses take care of themselves.
Belen is in district 5-4A with Valencia, St. Pius X, Grants and Highland. The Eagles first game is at home Wednesday, Aug. 24, against Hatch Valley.
Mike Powers spent more than 40 years as a television news and sports anchor, mostly in the Albuquerque market. He has won numerous awards including New Mexico Sportscaster of the Year. He covers a wide range of sports, including the Valencia County prep scene.