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David Anaya, center, battles the Portales keeper for a rebound before tapping it into the night for the game’s third goal during the second half Saturday at The Mack. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

The Bulldog soccer team learned a lot about themselves Saturday at the Mack Chase Athletic Complex.

They learned they’re perhaps still not as physically flexible as they need to be. They learned John Baca could score more if he’d take the shot. And, most importantly, they learned they can compete. With anybody.

That last lesson in particular will serve the ‘Dogs well as the season progresses, provided they take it to heart. The squad is off to its best start in years and is undefeated at home. And heading into a gamut of fellow Class 5A teams next week, they have a chance to prove themselves contenders, not just in District 4-AAAAA but in the state, as well.

“I thought we played really well,” head coach Phillip Jowers said following his team’s 4-1 victory over Portales Saturday. “Even though we’ve already played seven games, everybody’s still kind of settling into their positions, and the thing that’s nice about this year’s team is we have reserves. Our reserve players can come into the game at any time, and they can finish.”

The Bulldogs got the ball rolling just under eight minutes in Saturday on a solid goal by Cooper Flores, and Baca followed it up just over two minutes later to make it 2-0.

Portales was able to cut that lead in half at the 15:50 mark on a header off a ball into the middle, and the 2-1 score would stand at the break. But despite the slight lead, it was clear which team was controlling the tempo, and the ‘Dogs would continue that into the second half.

David Anaya booted one in out of a collision in front of the net in the eleventh minute of the final 40, and that gave Artesia some breathing room for the remainder. Cesar Leyva was able to set the final score, 4-1, on a penalty kick to put the Bulldogs back on the plus side, 4-3.

“We had an objective, and we went out there and executed it well,” said Jowers. “We did better with our new formation, and it’s always good to have two or three formations you can play so that you have that versatility when you play different teams. Our boys’ soccer IQ right now is high enough that they can accomplish that, and that way, we can utilize everybody’s strengths and weaknesses.

“We worked well as a team today. Our passing and movement off the ball had a rhythm, a cadence, whereas in the past it hasn’t. The guys definitely looked confident, and they showed up ready to play.”

They’ll need to keep that mindset going into a challenging week. Artesia will start with a trip to Roswell Tuesday to take on perennially tough NMMI before returning home Thursday for a 5A battle with Alamogordo, followed by two more Saturday at The Mack against Deming and Chaparral.

“Hopefully, we’ll keep building from here and be able to peak at the right time,” said Jowers. “It’s going to be a tough week, but we’re looking to get wins against those three 5A teams in particular.

“The boys are excited. I’m excited. It’s a good feeling to know that we’ve hit that level where we’re playing the way we should and basically executing what we’ve practiced for the last two years.”