As Mike Wissman sauntered to the visitors’ bench Wednesday afternoon, he told no one in particular — everyone within earshot — how he felt.
“I told you!” Wissman, the Santa Fe High senior midfielder, exclaimed. “I told you!”
The excitement underscored what might be a watershed moment in the history of Santa Fe High’s boys soccer program.
The Demons are for real.
That much was clear after Santa Fe High walked off the pitch at Albuquerque High School with a resounding 4-0 District 5-5A opening win that should reverberate across the state. In taking down 5A’s No. 2 team, according to MaxPreps.com‘s state rankings, the Demons announced themselves not just as the frontrunners in District 5-5A, but as serious contenders in the state.
Junior striker Alex Waggoner, who added a pair of goals to increase his state-leading total to 33, said the players have never seen themselves as upstarts.
“We’ve always had the confidence we can go far in state, even before this game,” Waggoner said. “You gotta go in with that confidence, or you can’t win.”
Those words are sweet music to the ears of Santa Fe High head coach Chris Eadie. He spent a decade tending to the program from 1997-2007, and the closest the Demons came to this kind of success was in 2002, when they tied for second place in the district but lost to Albuquerque Sandia on goal differential for a spot in the Class 5A State Tournament. There were a couple of wins over La Cueva in that time, but Eadie conceded those teams won on preparation, guts, determination and a little bit of luck.
His second tour with the program is proving more fruitful, especially after knocking off a team that has been to the state finals in six of the past seven years and won a blue trophy thrice. Now, Eadie sees a program that is capable of competing at a high level without relying on fate smiling upon the Demons.
“The key is that we have enough talent,” Eadie said. “We have some exceptional players who stand out game in, game out. It’s unique to have two or three really strong players like Silas [Ropp] at the back line, Mike in the middle and Alex up front. And when you put in the rest of our personnel, they’re all good, strong players and they’re stepping their game up.”
The Demons (10-1 overall, 1-0 in 5-5A) were aggressive from the first touch and hounded the goal for the first several minutes before finally breaking through in the eighth minute. It began with Waggoner on the right wing slipping a pass to the top of the penalty for Wissman. He had an open shot, but he never even considered it as he passed to a wide-open Henry Mazulis on the left flank.
Mazulis bounced his shot into the lower left hand goal to open the scoring and send the Demons’ confidence soaring.
“We’ve been practicing those back and forths all day because we knew Albuquerque High was going to bring the pressure,” Mazulis said. “We knew we had to get off the ball right away.”
Santa Fe High’s confidence reached the stratosphere near the end of the first half when Wissman crossed a corner kick to his best friend Waggoner, who was celebrating his 17th birthday. Waggoner headed the ball into the upper half of the net for a 2-0 lead in the 38th minute.
The lead held up because of a stellar defensive performance that focused on time and space — and the Demons gave neither to the Bulldogs. Every pass and every shot was contested, and the Santa Fe High defense might as well have worn Kelly green because of how tightly it marked its opponent.
When Albuquerque High (7-2, 0-1) had open looks at the goal, senior goalkeeper Ethan Earnest was a brick wall in front of the Santa Fe High goal. He had four saves, and two of them came at the midpoint of the second half. He made consecutive saves of point-blank shots and took the air out of the determined Bulldogs’ sails with his play.
“It was just my motivation to keep no goals in the back of the net,” Earnest said. “I wanted nothing to get through for my team. It was important for me to save that save and keep our energy up.”
The defensive game plan was all designed by Eadie, who scouted Albuquerque High over the weekend against Rio Rancho Cleveland.
“That’s what I saw as their two weaknesses,” Eadie said. “Those guys are so gifted on the ball, and Cleveland let them have time and space to turn.”
Eadie also made a clever decision to take practices from the turf field at Santa Fe High and move them to the grass fields of the Downs at Santa Fe early in the week. The idea was to get the players used to a grass field, where the bounces are not as true and the ball does not pick up speed skipping off the turf surface.
It paid off, as the Demons were crisp with their passing almost from the start.
“I had the scouting report and I said, ‘This is what I need you guys to do,’ ” Eadie said. ” ‘We’re going hard for an hour and a half. We’re going to be on each other and we’re going to fight for every inch and we’re going to see how it plays out. We gotta learn how to play on grass.’ “
Consider the lesson learned.
And recognize the Demons as a force to be reckoned with in 5A.
It’s what Wissman really meant to say.