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Turnover at the helm is one of the most difficult challenges a team can face.

Differences in coaching philosophies and varied approaches to the game can create a sense of upheaval and, particularly at the high-school level, dissent in the ranks that breeds unnecessary off-field distractions. But change can also foster unity amongst a group of athletes eager to simply find common ground and compete there.

Sandra Pulido is finding the latter to be the case. In her first season as head coach of the Lady Bulldog softball team, Pulido is the squad’s third skipper in as many years but has quickly established a rapport with her young yet veteran players.

“I like this group,” Pulido said Thursday. “They keep me on my toes, that’s for sure. They’re good kids, they’re buying into what we’re doing, and they make it very enjoyable.”

Despite containing just five seniors, only two of whom saw significant playing time in 2015, the Lady ‘Dog roster is loaded with experience. Approximately 12 players return on varsity from a group that began last season as one of the greenest in recent memory but finished exponentially improved.

The Lady Bulldogs reached the double-elimination portion of the Class 5A State Tournament in 2015 by way of a 19-4 run-rule upset of Miyamura in the opening round. Their bracket slot found them squaring off against top-ranked Centennial on Day One.

After falling behind 9-1, the Artesia girls stormed back in the bottom of the fifth to pull within a pair of the Lady Hawks but couldn’t clear the final hurdle, taking their first loss, 12-8. Unfortunately, their second came that same afternoon by way of a 5-4 defeat at the hands of Piedra Vista.

While the quick exit was frustrating, the state tournament experience was invaluable to the youthful team, and Pulido will be looking to expand upon that as the Lady Bulldogs’ 2016 campaign begins today at the Southern New Mexico Softball Invitational in Las Cruces.

“It’s been going really well so far,” Pulido said of Artesia’s offseason effort. “The girls have come out and worked hard every day. We’re kind of switching things up a little bit from how they’ve been the last few years, so it’s a change for them, but they’re taking it well and we have a pretty good, strong group out there this year.”

Artesia got a taste of game-format action this month with a scrimmage against Carlsbad and performed well despite the expected glitches and jitters.

“We were kind of up and down in the scrimmage, but that’s just what you get with a new coach, learning different things, and figuring out the players who are playing next to you,” Pulido said. “I feel pretty good about where we are at this point, though. This is a really cohesive group, and they’re communicating well with each other on the field.”

Pulido has been taking the Lady ‘Dogs’ focus back to fundamentals in the preseason and will be looking to see how the squad puts that work into play in their opening games.

“One thing I preach a lot is if you do the little things correctly, the big things will fall into place,” said the coach. “The biggest thing I would say we want this weekend is consistency.”

The Lady Bulldogs and their coach ultimately aim to earn a return trip to state and have their sights on the ultimate goal: a blue trophy. But with a long road between today and May, they’ll start by concentrating on the task at hand: Inning No. 1 of their 1 p.m. game against Miyamura.

“We’re just going to take things one game, one inning, at a time for right now and try to win every inning,” said Pulido. “If we do that, then we’ll be successful later on.”

Following their opener, the Lady Bulldogs will compete again, win or lose, at 5 p.m. today versus either the winner or loser of Mayfield versus Santa Fe High. A full tournament bracket is included below.