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Friday, June 14, 2024

Lady ‘Dogs come up just short of Moriarty in Round One of soccer playoffs

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There are plenty of questions that can be asked about the Class 4A state soccer tournaments this year. High among them would be what the Lady Bulldogs, the champions of District 4-AAAA, were doing hoofing it to Moriarty in the first round of the playoffs while runner-up Goddard got a home game against Bloomfield.

But that’s a discussion for next week. The end result, unfortunately, for the Artesia girls was a 3-2 loss to the Lady Pintos in a contest that saw the girls in orange compete well but come out on the short end of the breaks in the end.

“They just play a style of soccer that we struggle with, which is everything gets kicked up in the air and forward,” head coach Tim Trentham said Wednesday. “We don’t play well out of the air. We’re just so timid about getting the ball off our chest or head and trapping with our feet.

“Moriarty just gets there and kicks it. They do it efficiently and they place it well, and they tend to do some little switches over the defense that threw our defense off a little it, and that was the difference last night.”

The Lady ‘Dogs fell behind the Pintos 2-0 in the first half but came swinging back in the second 40 minutes to tie the match at 2-all.

“Their first goal came because we had missed a touch, and the ball bounced around in the box and one of their girls was able to shoot it,” Trentham said. “We just didn’t play well in the first half. We weren’t playing with intensity, and we didn’t seem to understand the importance of starting off well.

“We had some opportunities but not anywhere near as many as they did. They were shooting on us quite a bit. They weren’t great shots, but they were putting them on frame, and we were just being too one-dimensional. Their field is a huge, a full FIFA-sized field, and we were running everything down one side and weren’t looking to switch fields, partly because it was just so wide. We weren’t used to it, and that hurt us in the first half.”

To their credit, the Artesia girls regrouped at the break and came out with a different mindset.

“We played better in the second half,” said Trentham. “We went out with more intensity and moved the ball better side to side. We also had some girls really step up. Casey Dickson went down hurt, and we sent [sophomore] Mayra Garcia in, who’s played maybe two varsity games with decent minutes this season. And she scored both of our goals on corners.

“We knew she had it in her. She just finished against Lovington on JV with four goals, so we knew she was a capable player, but something just clicked at the right time at the end of the season, and she played a big role for us.”

Once the game was tied, the Lady Bulldogs rose to the momentum swing, and it looked as though they were en route to snatching a big win on the road. But it wasn’t to be.

“Everybody’s intensity level went up,” said Trentham. “Sometimes this young group just needs a kick in the pants to get going, but we started playing really well, matching them for pace and being aggressive. But then we just got unlucky.

“We missed one of those balls out of the air, and it bounced in between defenders. There was some confusion between the defense, and one of their girls was able to get through. She was pressured on the shot, but it just went right between [keeper] Kinsley’s [Rodriguez] legs.”

Having already had what would have previously been the tying goal — which would have made Garcia’s second the potential game-winner — by Dickson called back on an offsides whistle, it was simply another stroke of bad luck the Lady ‘Dogs weren’t able to compensate for due to their slow start on foreign turf.

“In the second half, the team we’re capable of being finally showed up to play,” Trentham said. “Had we started like that — and had we been at home, we would’ve started like that — I think that game could’ve gone our way easily.”

The Artesia girls finish their 2023 campaign with a record of 11-8-2 and a 4-1-1 showing in district play that earned them the title. And while the ending was hard to swallow, the future is looking extremely bright, with just a single senior — defender Emily Cano — graduating this year.

“Em’s been with us since she was an eighth-grader,” Trentham said. “I think she was the youngest player I ever pulled up; she turned 13 the week of two-a-days. She’s been a part of two district champion teams, been a part of a season where we had a playoff win and went up to Grants and lost a close one. She’s been a part of some really good teams.

“Last year, unfortunately, she was hurt early in the season and missed pretty much the entire year. Sometimes you see players fall off after an injury where you miss a season like that, but she came back this summer ready and raring to go… and then she was injured again at the beginning of the season.

“She didn’t want a repeat of the year before, though, so she did what she needed to do to get back on the field and worked her way back into a starting position. That says a lot about her dedication, and she was able to finish off her senior year being a part of another district championship team. Her career is one of the most successful as a player that I’ve had in terms of continuity of success.”

And while Cano’s absence will be felt, youth will be served, as the Lady Bulldogs return older, wiser, more experienced, and hungrier in 2024.

“We were ahead of schedule as far as where I thought we’d be as a team this year,” said Trentham. “I thought we might have a chance at a district championship next year. So this team is moving forward really well, and I think their success will come earlier next year and will just continue to grow. The lumps we took last year we didn’t take this year. We played really, really well and are now just looking to carry that momentum into next season.

“If we get a good offseason and a lot of girls are committed and we have really quality summer practices, we’re just going to keep clicking along. And if this group can stay cohesive and learn how to be a team, it’s only going to get better. Being a team is being a family, and with that comes sometimes not loving each other, but if we can get over the small things that come with being young, we’re going to be fantastic for the next several years.”

Brienne Green
Daily Press Editor

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