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Sunday, May 19, 2024

2023 Bulldog Soccer Preview

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Bulldog head soccer coach Phillip Jowers is nothing but positive vibes this season.

His athletes have been hard at work all summer. He’s added a new assistant coach. Chemistry is flowing, expectations are high, and above all, the Artesia Bulldog soccer team is learning that “Artesia Bulldog soccer” means something far more than just “one of Artesia High School’s six fall sports teams.”

It’s an identity. It’s an aspiration. It’s a legacy. And it’s something to live up to.

“Summer was great,” Jowers said cheerfully Tuesday. “The boys have been working hard, and they’ve been getting after it. We’ve evolved. We’re growing as a team — that’s the reality. We are not where we were. There are expectations, there are hopes and dreams, and there are guys who want to win district and win state.

“But that starts next week in Hobbs.”

Rewind to the summer offseason. It was a particularly busy one for the ‘Dogs, who attended a camp at Colorado Mesa in Grand Junction, Colo., hosted a team camp in Artesia, and in between, conducted a kids’ camp and 5v5 and 3v3 tournaments.

“Colorado Mesa was a great camp,” Jowers said. “Coach [Jon] Fridal is always amazing, and the boys learned a lot. Then we were able to have eight teams come in for a team camp… Centennial, Hobbs, Roswell, Carlsbad, Goddard, Amarillo, Lubbock. And those Lubbock kids are big boys because they’re all football players, since Texas plays soccer in the winter and spring.”

While soccer proficiency is obviously a major goal of any camp or activity, the main take-away for the ‘Dogs is deeper.

“The edge that we have is the fact that we’re all very close,” Jowers said. “That’s what spending all summer together does. We’re no longer building a program; we’re maintaining a program. We’re still building as in moving forward, but the goals we’re setting are greater goals. And it’s a lot of fun to see.”

The Bulldogs are coming off a solid 2022 campaign that saw the squad earn a No. 8 seed in the Class 4A State Tournament and, thusly, a home match in the first round. Unfortunately, they’d come up short of ninth-ranked Santa Teresa, 3-1, at The Mack, but as a testament to the quality of District 4-AAAA, Lovington and Goddard would go on to compete against one another in the state semifinals, with the Wildcats ultimately taking the 4A title, 2-1 over Hope Christian.

The Artesia boys defeated Lovington during the regular season at the Louie Cernicek Tournament in Los Alamos, 1-0. They also topped Class 5A Clovis (2-1) and Carlsbad (2-0), amongst a solid slate of wins over same-class competition.

The ultimate lesson learned over the course of 2022 was simple: You’re capable of beating anyone.

“We beat the eventual state champion last year,” Jowers said. “We have it in us to succeed, and it doesn’t matter how big the other kids are or how big the program is — the bigger they are, the harder they fall. You just have to find a way.

“As long as we play our game, we can beat anybody in the state. But we have to play our game. We’re not Academy or Hobbs or St. Pius, and we need to stop worrying about trying to be them and just be us. Don’t try to play somebody else’s style. That’s where you get into issues. Artesia soccer needs to be Artesia soccer.”

The ‘Dogs’ first crack at a “bigger” opponent will come Tuesday in their season opener against 5A Hobbs on the road.

“We always want to beat Hobbs, and I’d rather play them right out of the gate like that,” said Jowers. “They’re the toughest 5A team in our area, if not one of the toughest in the state.”

They’ll host Moriarty at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 26, in their home opener, and they’re not looking any further than that at the moment. “We gotta play ’em one game at a time” isn’t just great advice from “Bull Durham,” it’s Jowers’ personal motto as well.

“We’re not going to overcomplicate things,” said the coach. “We’re just going to focus on one game at a time and play Artesia soccer. Everybody knows we’re defensively strong, and we’ve been working hard on our offense, trying to put it all together. But at the end of the day, I’m never going to compromise when it comes to defense because yes, offense is fun to watch, and yes, you have to score goals to win, but if you can’t keep it out of the back of the net, you’ll never win games.

“Defense wins championships. Offense wins games. And we want to win championships.”

Jowers has also ensured this year that every athlete on the field will have a newfound appreciation of what his teammates are doing.

“One of our focuses was teaching every boy how to play multiple positions, so we created depth in our own team,” he said. “Even our goalies can play on the field. Everybody can play everywhere. You may not play goalie, but you’re going to understand how to play it. Our forwards know how to play defense, our defenders know how to play forward; everybody is on the same page.”

Jowers’ support staff this year will include Billie Delgado and newcomer Zane Brooks, a Canyon, Texas, transplant and recent college soccer player. Brooks shares Jowers’ philosophy when it comes to taking every challenge as it comes and developing not only a solid program but solid young men, as well.

“Since we’re a young team, we just want to develop as much as we can this season and win as many games as we can,” Brooks said Tuesday. “My main goal is to instill a culture that’s not just about wins but becoming good men.”

“This is never my team,” Jowers said. “This is the guys’ team, every year. It’s 100% up to that group of boys. I’m just the captain, helping them steer in the right direction. They’re the ship. They decide how much or how little they want to get done, and I’m pretty sure we’ve all decided that we want to achieve greatness.”

Brienne Green
Daily Press Editor

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