Riding the wave: Lady Broncos on verge of clinching state berth
With only 15 players, the Kirtland Central girls’ soccer team is making the most of what they can for the 2021 season.
The ongoing pandemic has hurt the program in terms of participation but the Lady Broncos have raised a few eyebrows as they are on the verge of clinching a state tournament berth.
The Broncos will close out the season by playing district rivals Bloomfield and Aztec next week. KC is set to face Bloomfield on Tuesday, followed by an away game at Aztec on Oct. 21.
“I took over the program three weeks before the season started, so I really didn’t know the players,” KC coach Eric Hooper said, who previously coached the program from 2009 to 2015 before he got hired on at Grambling State University for five seasons.
“We went through our two-a-day practices and I told the girls that pre-district didn’t really matter to me,” he said, “but they ended up doing really good.”
The Broncos notched more wins than losses as they compiled a 6-4-1 record before district. The four setbacks were against 4A and 5A competition.
“Some of those schools are monsters,” Hooper said of playing the likes of Los Lunas, Hope Christian, Farmington and Piedra Vista. “They’re big schools and they have great programs with great kids.”
Going into the final week of the regular season, the Broncos have been riding that wave as they improved to 10-5-2 overall after mercy-ruling Gallup 10-0 on Tuesday night under chilly conditions.
“The wind was brutal and totally painful but the team maintained their composure and they got the job done,” Hooper said.
The Broncos had 26 shot-on-goals while Gallup had none.
Of the 10 goals scored, the Broncos had seven different players hit the ball in the back of the net. Senior Marissa Henry and junior Jessina Garcia led the team with two goals each.
The two goals by Henry were huge as she tied the school record for most goals scored in a season with 26.
“It’s just an amazing feeling,” Henry said. “I feel very blessed because I accomplished something that hasn’t been done for quite awhile now.”
Prior to the start of the season, Henry was initially set on scoring 15 goals but after two 5-goal performances against Miyamura and Grants, she wanted to break the school record.
“I’m beyond that and now I want to try and score 30 goals this year,” she said.
And while she has 47 career goals, Henry had an off year during last year’s shortened season when she scored only one goal.
“I didn’t score that many so for my senior season I just wanted to go out with a bang,” Henry said.
To pull that off, the KC forward worked on her game during the summer to prepare for this year’s season.
“I started working out by myself,” she said. “I worked on my touches and I just mostly ran.”
Hooper said scoring 26 goals is unheard of.
“She in No. 8 in the entire state,” the KC coach said of his pupil. “What she’s done is amazing.”
Hooper said it took Henry awhile to reach 26 goals as some of the district teams have keyed on her. In their most recent games with Miyamura and Bloomfield, Henry scored only one goal and against Aztec the Lady Tigers held her in check.
“They’re basically double- and triple-teaming her,” he said.
By using that tactic, Hooper said it’s opened the door for others to score.
In their last two games, Garcia has found the net five times, bumping her stats to 17 goals this year. In addition, she also has 13 assists.
“They’re both way high in the standings for goals made,” Hooper said of Henry and Garcia.
The Broncos are going to lean on those two players in hopes of winning the district title. KC (4-1-1) has a half-game lead over Aztec as the Tigers sport a 3-1-1 record heading into today’s game with Miyamura.
“I’m excited,” Hooper said. “We have two games left go and we’re in the running for the district title.”
The only blemish the Broncos have in the district race is a 2-1 setback to Miyamura on Sept. 21. They avenged that loss last week with a 4-1 win.
“We were doing really good until we played Miyamura that day,” Hooper said of the first district meeting with Patriots. “They beat us and that was a shocker.”
Since then the Broncos have worked their way back up, which includes a 1-1 tie with Aztec on Oct. 5.
“That’s the first time in the history of the girls program that we tied them,” Hooper said. “We’ve never beat Aztec and we’ve never tied them so that was the first time.”
The KC coach said the two final games could make or break their season.
“Anything can happen,” he said. “If we win our last two games we’re the district champ and we’ll go to state.”
Incidentally, the last time the Broncos made the playoffs was during Hooper’s last prep season at KC before he bolted to coach collegiately in Louisiana.