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Jake Trejo drops a short tap over the net as doubles partner Tailor Baggerly looks on. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

With four early-season tournaments now under their belts and much more to go before the April 4 start of District 4-AAAAA play, the Artesia High School tennis teams are beginning to grow into their roles.

The netters have faced a steady stream of stiff competition since the season began Feb. 17, and things didn’t get easier Friday and Saturday at the Claire Higgins Invitational in Carlsbad. There, the Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs, along with their hosts, the Cavemen and Cavegirls, squared off against a battery of Texas squads that included Dumas, Palo Duro, Midland Christian, Andrews and El Paso Andress.

But the boys and girls in orange were able to leave their mark, with the Bulldog doubles team of Jake Trejo and Tailor Baggerly picking up a fourth-place finish and the duo of Za’Leigh Pittam and Ashlie Sherrell a consolation championship.

“It was a tough tournament,” head coach Tim Trentham said Saturday. “We’re very young on both sides. We graduated three seniors from both teams last year, so our lower end is a little inexperienced. But we’re doing okay.

“All those Texas teams play year-round tennis. Right now, they’re in the individual part of their season; in the fall, they play team. So for us to have any success at all against teams of that quality is pretty impressive.”

Za’Leigh Pittam delivers a serve during girls’ doubles play Saturday in Carlsbad. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

Thus far in their tournament play, the Artesia squads have earned a pair of medals, courtesy of a second-place boys’ singles finish by Ramon Molina and a third place in girls’ singles from Andrea Alvarez.

“Our strength of competition up to this point has been really good, and that’s one thing we like about our schedule – there’s nobody that’s just a pushover,” said Trentham. “We’re getting some quality match play in and picking up some good wins, especially Jake Trejo on the boys’ side. He’s just a fantastic player, and he’s doing really well individually and doubles wise with Tailor, as well.”

Trentham says the Lady Bulldogs are still working to gain the valuable experience they need at the top of their roster.

“The girls are struggling a little bit right now, just because some of these girls have played two years or so at No. 4 or lower, so it’s difficult for them to step up to that upper echelon of being 1 and 2 players,” said the coach. “But they’re getting better.”

The Artesia teams still have one more tournament on their docket – this weekend’s Cavern City Classic in Carlsbad. Trentham says they’ll be seeing more Texas competition there, with several schools coming in from the El Paso area.

After that, the ‘Dogs and Lady ‘Dogs will travel to NMMI and Portales for a pair of duals before continuing what will be a nearly entire-season road trip with district duals at Goddard and Lovington April 4 and 10.

Unfortunately, due to a variety of circumstances, Artesia was unable to bring together the amount of teams needed to host the Bulldog Invitational this year. That tournament, originally scheduled for March 31 – April 1, has been cancelled.

That means the netters’ April 13 district dual against Roswell High will mark their home opener, and they’ll need to earn a No. 3 seed or higher in the District Team Tournament to see another home outing prior to the District Individual Tourney in Roswell.

For now, however, the road-warrior Bulldogs will continue to hone their game.

“I think once we get into district, it will help that we’ve played this harder competition,” said Trentham. “It’s the same mindset as the football team – you play harder people, it toughens your skin, and once you get into district, you’re ready and able to kind of rise above the level of your opponents.”