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There’s no question the 2017 Lady Bulldog soccer team has delivered the program’s most successful season since its inception 20 years ago.

With an overall record of 15-5, the girls in orange have spent the past two months setting milestones and breaking school records at a pace designed to lead them here, to 5 p.m. this afternoon at Cielo Grande in Roswell: the first round of the Class 5A State Tournament and a chance to punch their ticket to the Duke City.

“We’ve gotten where we are this season because we’re a great team,” head coach Tim Trentham said today. “Now we just have to keep pushing forward. And the girls are excited to do it.”

The Lady ‘Dogs made their first appearance in a decade in the state tournament bracket in 2016, with the self-same scenario: vs. the Lady Coyotes (12-8) on their home turf.

Thwarted throughout the regular season by the girls in red, Artesia put forth their best effort of the year in the game, but with 15 minutes on the second-half clock, Roswell got the lone goal that would send them to the quarterfinals.

But the Lady Bulldogs and their coaches could tell this year was different from the very start: They defeated Roswell High 1-0 to help secure a Goddard Invitational Tournament win in their season opener Aug. 18-19. And when District 4-AAAAA rolled around, they did it again Oct. 3 at Cielo Grande.

Unfortunately, with their first-ever district crown on the line Oct. 14 at the Mack Chase Athletic Complex, the Lady ‘Dogs couldn’t produce a repeat performance, falling by a final of – you guessed it – 1-0 to finish second.

But while that outcome was obviously disappointing, it could very well serve as the extra motivation the Artesia girls need today.

“We just have to play a better game than we did here,” Trentham said. “That means we have to stay strong throughout the game and not let off at any point. When we’re tired and sore and feel like we don’t have anything left to give, we have to dig deeper and find it.”

Being as familiar as Artesia and Roswell are, there’s little the teams can do at this point to surprise one another, meaning the game will likely come down to simple desire and determination.

“At this time of year, there’s not a whole lot to change,” said Trentham. “We just have one minor adjustment we’re going to make, and then it’s going to be who wants it more. It’ll come down to which team wants to give everything they have.”

The Lady ‘Dogs will be looking to use their speedy style of play to their advantage, hoping to catch the Lady Coyotes off guard early, if possible, and make the opportunities they’re given count.

“They’re a pretty solid team as far as just being aggressive with the ball and aggressive off the ball, too, on defense,” said Trentham. “They’ve had trouble finishing against us every game we’ve played, which is why we’re 2-1 against them. We’ve been able to capitalize on some opportunities, and I think the last time we played them, we could have done that, too, if the one good look we had hadn’t hit off the post.

“We play fast, we play quick, and they play aggressive and slow-paced, so it works well for both teams. It’s just a matter of who executes better. They can play quick, too, but they’re tending to just send things. They don’t have a lot of middle control, so we have to make sure to pressure and not let them stay down in our defensive third too much. If we do that, we won’t have to rely as much on the counter.”

Trentham says his athletes have spent the past 10 days working hard and amping up for what promises to be a battle. It’s what’s seen them through a benchmark season they aim to continue today. The winner will face top-ranked Albuquerque Academy at 9:30 a.m. Nov. 2 in the quarters at the Bernalillo Soccer Complex.

“We can’t treat this game like it’s our last game, we have to treat it like it’s a game we’re using to move forward,” said the coach. “We don’t want to have that attitude that this could be our last opportunity to play.

“We’re going to play to play on, not play to finish.”