After East Mountain’s boys soccer team lost last week’s regular-season finale 4-1 to a district rival, the Sandia Prep Sundevils, head coach Matt Painter circled his players.
Painter gave his players a pep talk and told them that they would likely make the state tournament “by the skin of our teeth.” But when the New Mexico Activities Association released the Class 1A/4A state tournament teams a few days later, the Timberwolves were left off the bracket.
East Mountain (10-10, 2-4 Dist. 5-A/4A) won one more game than last year’s squad that got a state berth, and the T’Wolves beat several teams this season that received state berths.
So getting passed over left Painter shaking his head.
“It’s the luck of the draw,” Painter said. “But we beat Bernalillo, we beat Bosque, [both teams that made state], so it is a bitter pill to swallow.”
Especially considering that the T’Wolves played very competitively against a number of ranked teams, including last week’s loss to Sandia Prep—the No. 2 team in the state.
The teams locked horns during the game’s first 25 minutes as the T’Wolves repeatedly attacked the Sundevil’s goal and took eight or nine solid shots that were saved by Sandia Prep’s goalkeeper or just barely missed the mark.
By game’s end the T’Wolves had taken 15 shots on goal, but only one found its way to the back of the net.
“We crushed it so many times,” Painter said. “We just didn’t capitalize on our opportunities.”
Midway through the first half the Sundevils (10-7-3, 4-1-1) hit two consecutive goals within a span of two minutes and added another one in the 37th minute to take a 3-0 lead at half time.
East Mountain got on the board in the 61st minute after Jose Perea grabbed an indirect free kick from midfield and sliced his way through the Sundevils defense.
“Coach was telling me to push up, and I got control of the ball and hit it to the bottom left corner and it went in,” Perea said.
Plagued by injuries for much of the season, Painter said it was a “season of bad luck.”
But he noted that many of the players who didn’t realize that the Sandia Prep loss was the end of the season—particularly the younger ones who’ll be returning next year—are actually relieved they didn’t make state.
“We were in a very tough district, and we played well against a lot of tough, competitive teams,” Painter said. “So, it is what it is, and now we pick our heads up and we start getting ready for next year.”