Not that Class 5A boys soccer needed reinforcement of this, but the Cleveland Storm last November, without necessarily knowing it, opened the door wide to the possibilities.
You will find a few coaches who believe Centennial, last year’s state runner-up, is this fall’s team to beat. La Cueva coach Easy Jimenez confidently proclaimed his Bears are the one.
Rio Rancho coach John Shepard, one of the state’s coaching deans, thinks there could be as many as 10 teams that have a shot to win a state title in November. Sandia coach Ryan Sanchez is standing the middle ground; maybe, he said, there are five or six teams with a legitimate shot.
And here, the discussion circles back to Cleveland.
The Storm captured the 5A title as a No. 12 seed last season, the lowest seed in the bracket. It was a shocking finish to a postseason, since no seed that low had ever won state before. And it also further demonstrated the depth in the 5A division.
There is plenty more of that this fall, with the likes of Centennial, La Cueva, Volcano Vista and Atrisco Heritage among those teams who generally have support as favorites in 5A.
District 1-5A is, as usual, the place to begin. On top of Cleveland last year, Atrisco Heritage made the semifinals as a 12 seed the year before. “Ridiculous,” Shepard said of his district’s depth.
October is always an intense month in 1-5A.
“Atrisco looks good; they’ve got a machine down there,” Volcano Vista coach Billy Thiebaut said. His Hawks were the No. 1 seed at state last year. “They’re the favorite in our district right now.”
Senior midfielder Marco Lara is an anchor for the Jaguars. Junior mid Luis Ortiz “is the heart and soul and fight of our team,” Atrisco Heritage coach Javier Hernandez said.
Volcano Vista’s balanced lineup includes all-state defender Jaden Soto and forward Nathan LeMasters, who is converting positions after playing in the midfield and defense.
Shepard’s Rams are expected to contend in 1-5A with a roster that has the coach feeling “pretty optimistic” if team chemistry gels. Rio Rancho should be strong on the back line with senior Caden Jones and senior Xavier Chandler, who returns after missing the 2022 season with knee surgery.
For Cleveland, the Storm begin the season under a bit of a dark cloud, as several players recently bolted the high school program for the New Mexico United Academy.
“It’s gonna be a learning curve,” Storm coach Shaun Gill said. His team was only fourth in its district (1-5A) but went on a tremendous postseason run. Now Cleveland will need to adapt quickly.
In 2-5A, La Cueva enjoyed a huge regular season before bowing out in the quarterfinals of the playoffs to Santa Fe.
The Bears return 14 players, eight starters and should be a high-profile threat.
Senior forward, Brandon Boling, one of 5A’s top scorers last year, is back for La Cueva, as is junior forward Emari Camu.
Sandia and Eldorado both believe they’ll contend with the Bears in 2-5A.
Freshman midfielder Teo Ojeda is “arguably one of the best in the state,” Sandia coach Ryan Sanchez said. Half a dozen starters are back for the Matadors, who are solid through the back, the midfield and up top, including sophomore forward Ethan Tewa.
Eldorado lost a couple of its top scorers, but the back line is stout, led by junior Manny Cisneros and Bodie Larson.
District 5-5A ought to be highly interesting, with Albuquerque High, Santa Fe and Rio Grande all expecting to challenge.
The Demons won state in 2021 and reached the semifinals last year as a 6 seed. AHS graduated 15 seniors, so this will be a younger-than-usual Bulldog squad with a mostly new starting lineup. One of the top returners is senior center mid Miguel Aguilar.
Former Sandia High athletic director Brian Weems has returned to coaching, with Rio Grande. The Ravens will start only two seniors after being ravaged by graduation, but Weems expects Rio Grande, which has a very young back line, to be competitive led by facilitating midfielders Miguel Guillermo (a freshman) and Kevin Trejo (a sophomore).
Metro pool play
Before the brackets top decide the APS Metro tournament champions, three-game pool play began last week to determine which teams head to each of the four brackets, with “Gold” being the destination for the top teams in each pool. Here are the brackets for the City of Vision teams:
- Cleveland boys: Pool B with Albuquerque High, Highland and West Mesa.
- Rio Rancho boys: Pool C with Rio Grande, Sandia and Valley.
- Cleveland girls: Pool D with Eldorado, which beat the Storm in the 5A championship game last November; Hope Christian – on a 31-game winning streak entering pool play — and Manzano.
- Rio Rancho girls: Pool A with Albuquerque High, La Cueva and Valley.