What a difference a year (and a half) makes. In October 2019 the Carlsbad Cavegirls were knocked out of the Class 5A soccer playoffs in the semifinals while the Rio Rancho Lady Rams didn’t even qualify for the postseason. Now in April 2021 these two teams met in the 5A semifinals with Carlsbad holding on to a 3-2 victory to send the Cavegirls to the state championship game for the first time in program history.
How it happened
Top-ranked Carlsbad (10-0) got off to an incredibly fast start, needing less than 30 seconds to score. Cavegirl junior Alexa Dugan raced down the sideline and crossed the ball to senior Morgan Bradley, who found the back of the goal to put Carlsbad up, 1-0.
The Cavegirls added to their lead 14 minutes later when sophomore Allie Meyers had a breakaway attempt against Rio Rancho goalkeeper Briana Gresham. Meyers got the ball a little too in front of her and could only manage a toe tap. However, Gresham must have expected Meyers to launch the ball because it went through her legs to put Carlsbad up, 2-0.
It appeared to be all Carlsbad to start out the second half when senior Emily Hervol hit a shot from 33-yards out to give the Cavegirls a comfortable 3-0 lead with 30 minutes left in regulation.
Rio Rancho (7-3-2) didn’t quit and finally got on the scoreboard two minutes later. Rio Rancho senior Marisa Molina was awarded a free kick and got it by a diving Korrine Bradford to cut the lead, 3-1 with 28 minutes left.
The Lady Rams were dealt an emotional blow right afterwards. Autumn Huntington was accidentally struck square in the face with a ball kicked by Carlsbad’s Abbey Dugan and could not continue the match. She had to be removed from the field in an ambulance but she was able to move her extremities and wasn’t dealing with any tingling sensation.
After the long break both teams were out of sorts in the reset but Rio Rancho continued to attack. The Lady Rams closed the lead, 3-2 when Maya Romero got a cross kick of her own by Bradford with 15 minutes left.
Both teams continued to attack but in the end, the Cavegirls defense did enough to prevent one final Rio Rancho goal and send Carlsbad to the championship match where they will face the No. 2 Albuquerque High Bulldogs (7-0). Last season Carlsbad defeated Albuquerque in the quarterfinals, 1-0.
They said it
“A lot of them worked out individually during COVID when they were locked in at home. They came back (this season) and we set goals. One of them was to come at least into the playoffs. That’s awesome. We’re really happy we have come so far. I think we slept through the first half and at the end it was a little too late. We could have tied it but congrats to Carlsbad because they came out sharp and ready to play.”
– Uwe Balzis, Rio Rancho head coach
“The girls know what’s at stake. They knew they wanted to get to the championship game. We’re going to face an Albuquerque High team that’s pissed off we beat them last year so we better be ready to play, which I know we will be. I couldn’t have asked for any more. They’ve given us a few grey hairs but they have stepped up to every freaking challenge this year.”
– Misty Long, Carlsbad head coach
Carlsbad and Albuquerque High will face off for the 5A state championship title on Saturday at 3 p.m. at the University of New Mexico main field soccer stadium. This is the first time either team has played in the state championship
Matthew Asher can be reached at 575-628-5524, email@example.com or @Caveman_Masher on Twitter.