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(Photo Courtesy Tim Trentham)

Lady Bulldog head soccer coach Tim Trentham was hoping to see his athletes be competitive this weekend at the Goddard Invitational in Roswell. In the end, they gave him something better: a championship trophy.

For the first time since the squad began opening its seasons at the tournament – which annually features Artesia’s District 4-AAAAA nemeses, Goddard and Roswell High – the Lady ‘Dogs came out on top Saturday afternoon, defeating Valencia 3-0 in the title tilt.

The prize was made all the sweeter by the fact they’d had to go through one of their rivals – the Lady Coyotes – to earn it.

“We’re very, very excited,” Trentham said Saturday. “It’s a great start to the season. These girls have really pushed themselves all summer long. We’ve been working them real hard, and the attitude of the girls was just fantastic this weekend. It really makes me happy for them.”

The Lady ‘Dogs opened tournament play Friday afternoon against Portales, logging a 2-1 win despite the usual disjointedness that accompanies a season-opening game plus a few shake-ups due to injuries.

“That game was a little rough,” said Trentham. “We definitely had the first-game jitters, and then we took a pretty big hit with a concussion to one of our starters. That kind of took the wind out of everybody’s sails for a little bit, but the girls were able to regroup.”

While the injury to senior defender Kiersten Hernandez was a blow, Trentham said her replacement, junior Kolby Mathews, stepped into the role well, a testament to another tenet he and assistant coach Vanessa Lopez have been preaching over the summer.

“It’s all about carrying the load this year,” Trentham said. “We have a next man up mentality. We’re 22 strong, everybody is unified, and I think that’s what really helped us in this tournament – the girls truly understand it’s not about any individual, it’s about all 22 of them, and regardless of who’s doing what, we’re going to push forward and make sure we’re playing for each other.”

The Lady ‘Dogs were able to build a 2-0 lead on the Ramettes – courtesy of goals by eighth-grader Zailor Lopez and junior Jannell Soto – that turned out to be crucial when Portales was able to pick up a goal in the second half on a free kick.

“Portales is a little bit stronger team than they’ve been in the past, but overall, we did OK,” said Trentham. “It was our roughest game of the weekend just because it was the first one, plus we’ve got a lot of younger players who are trying to get their bearings on the field.”

Saturday morning’s semifinal bout against Roswell High was every bit as competitive as the Lady Bulldogs were anticipating.

“I think Roswell outplayed us a little bit in spots, but we were able to get that goal, which gave us some confidence,” said Trentham.

Lopez logged the score on an assist from Elisa Cardenas, forcing the Lady Coyotes into catch-up mode.

“Roswell’s very good at applying pressure, and they just kept pushing and pushing,” Trentham said. “Fortunately, our defense was able to handle it pretty well. Defensively, Laken Estrada, Destiny Gonzales and Ariah Salazar just did a fantastic job of keeping us ahead and making sure we finished that game strong.”

With their first win over the Lady Coyotes since 2015 behind them, the Lady Bulldogs’ adrenaline was at a high heading into their final contest against Valencia.

“We just had a lot of fuel to our fire,” said Trentham. “We’d never had the opportunity to take first place in that tournament, and the girls really stepped it up.”

Lopez logged her third goal in as many games to give the Lady ‘Dogs a 1-0 edge at the half, and freshman Sadi Butler posted a pair in the second 40 minutes, the first on a pass from Ashley Hernes and the second on a solo ball.

“Zailor, who we pulled up as an eighth-grader, did a fantastic job this weekend,” said Trentham. “Three goals over the course of three games – you can’t ask for much more than that. And we also had some fantastic play from girls like Adrianna Baeza and Elisa… we were struggling at points, suffering a little bit from the tightness in our legs, but the girls pushed through.

“They wanted it badly, and they took care of business. I’m exuberant about what we accomplished, and to start the season off 3-0 – you can’t ask for anything better.”

Trentham said he was pleased to see the squad’s run-and-gun strategy paying off as their opponents began to suffer from fatigue.

“We may not necessarily be the most talented team on the field against some of these opponents, but we’re going to make you work,” said the coach. “One of the things teams are finding when they play us is that our speed just wears them out, and we were noticing that late in the first half against Valencia.

“We’re looking to really make the other team’s midfield and defense work. We may not score early, but we’re pushing them, and eventually, they start to wear down and we’re able to capitalize on our opportunities.”

With a significant achievement behind them, the Lady Bulldogs will no doubt be riding a momentum high Tuesday at the Mack Chase Athletic Complex as they host their 2017 home opener at 6 p.m. against Class 6A Hobbs.

“Hobbs is going to be tough, as always,” said Trentham. “They’re fast like we are, and each one of their players is talented across the board. We know we’ve got a big task coming at us. It’ll be a good test of our mettle to really see where we are.

“It means a lot to have a boost in confidence, and these girls are going to come out swinging. We’ll give them the best game we can. That’s what we’re all about right now.”

With a bright, shiny physical reminder in their trophy case, the Lady ‘Dogs will have no trouble recalling what hard work can get them.

“I couldn’t want anything more from them to start the year,” said Trentham. “It’s so rewarding for them to see that all their work is not in vain and that the things we’ve been telling them and the work they’ve been putting in is starting to pay dividends.”