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(Brienne Green - Daily Press)

(Brienne Green – Daily Press)

In his first year at the helm of the Bulldog soccer team in 2015, Phillip Jowers wanted his team to focus on every aspect of their season but one: their record.

The Artesia boys were young. Very young. It showed in the majority of their final scores but not in their effort on the field. They were scrappy, and they fought hard. They learned. They gained experience. And now, the bulk of them are back in 2016 looking to see it all pay off.

“When you put last year in perspective, we were a team full of ninth-graders and two eighth-graders,” Jowers said. “So we were basically a JV team playing against varsity teams.

“It should be different this year. We’re a little more seasoned, a little older. The kids are just bigger in terms of sheer size, faster, stronger.”

The ‘Dogs were just edged by Belen, 3-2, Aug. 20 on the road in their season opener and battled a Class 6A Hobbs team that mercy-ruled them 11-1 the year before tooth and nail Aug. 23, holding the Eagles to a single goal via penalty kick in the first half.

“The Belen game was more mental mistakes than anything,” Jowers said. “And the Hobbs game, I couldn’t ask for much more. Obviously, more opportunities on offense would’ve been nice, but with that being just our second game, it wasn’t bad at all.”

Jowers says the work the athletes who turned out in the summer have put in has translated to a better start.

“We had a good turnout,” he said. “I’d like to see more coming out in the summertime, but the kids that did come out worked very hard. And a lot of our boys played in an adult men’s league in Roswell last spring and in the summer, so that’s helped quite a bit.”

The Bulldogs returned nine members of its starting 11 this season, giving them a solid core around which to build. They’re more confident in themselves and their teammates, and it’s visible on the field. With that, Jowers hopes to see the team settle more comfortably into its various roles.

“I just want them to stay focused and complete the task, put what we’ve been practicing into play and have that carry over into the games,” he said. “And also get more relaxed. I want them a little more relaxed on the field and playing our game instead of being tense.”

The ‘Dogs will travel to Ruidoso Tuesday to take on the Warriors before returning to the Mack Chase Athletic Complex Thursday to host Gadsden. They’ll then have a week off before taking on Carlsbad at home before travelling to Portales Sept. 10.

“We have a little bit different schedule this year,” Jowers said. “We’re playing Portales and Ruidoso, a couple of new bigger teams like Gadsden, so it’ll be a nice change of pace for us.”

As the season continues, Jowers will be looking to see the Bulldogs working toward the ultimate goal, one that began last season with a team of nervous youngsters.

“We’re here to win games, but we’re also here to build a program and change the perception of what soccer is in Artesia,” Jowers said. “When people think about Artesia soccer, whether it’s boys or girls, I want it to be a positive connotation and not a negative.”