. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

It wasn’t so much a lopsided division of talent that hindered the Lady Bulldog soccer team Tuesday in a 7-1 road loss to Clovis. It was more a division of confidence.

Down 3-0 at the break, the Lady ‘Dogs came out strong in the second half, earning a penalty kick midway through. But when that effort was blocked, the youthful tendency to deflate rather than get motivated set in, and from there, the rout was on.

“They’re a class above us, so realistically, with a bigger talent pool to choose from, they should be better,” head coach Tim Trentham said of Clovis this morning. “But we’ve competed much better than that against them in the past. I expect more out of this group than last year’s, because I feel this group is just as talented. But we’re also young and inexperienced, and I think that has a big role to play in what we do against the better competition.”

The Lady Bulldog varsity roster features 13 girls in grade 10 or below, half of whom have starting spots. And when the chips are down, the squad’s lack of veteran guidance often shows.

“We’re missing that senior leadership when it comes to handling adversity,” Trentham said. “When we play teams where we can constantly be attacking and putting a lot of pressure on them, we play fine, because we’re riding that wave of momentum all the way through the game. But once we play teams where we have to rely on not letting one mistake be what defeats and breaks us, that’s what killing us – not having that experience to fall back on and know, ‘This is just one mistake, we’ll get past it.’

“But they’re getting there. These are the things we’re trying to instill in them right now, and we’ll grow. This group has the capability of competing with that quality of play, it’s just a matter of having the confidence, the heart and courage, to step up and do it.”

The Lady Bulldogs were at a bit of a disadvantage to start Tuesday, as the game took place at Yucca Middle School in Clovis, where conditions were not ideal.

“The grass was four inches thick, and it was in really bad shape,” Trentham said. “We’re used to playing fast, and you can’t play fast in that kind of grass. The ball just dies, and we gave up a lot of possession just because we’re not used to that.”

The Lady Wildcats came out physical in the contest and were able to essentially overpower Artesia en route to a 3-0 halftime lead.

“Clovis is aggressive, and that’s one thing we’re lacking right now – just being aggressive to the ball, being physical in play,” said the coach. “That’s a big part of what hurt us.”

Trentham and his staff made some adjustments at the break, however, and they served the team well as the second half commenced.

“For like the first 15 or 20 minutes of the second half, things were going really, really well,” he said. “We had a lot of attacking opportunities, we had the ball on their side of the field a lot more, which alleviated the pressure on our defense. We even got ourselves into a penalty kick situation, but their keeper ended up blocking it.

“At that point, the momentum swung. Missing the PK kind of took the wind out of our sails, and it was just a collapse after that. We weren’t able to sustain our attack anymore. We lost either the adrenaline rush or the straight heart to want to win the game. That was the case with those four goals in the second half – I don’t think it was really a matter of being outplayed as much as a matter of being out-hearted.”

Artesia was able to get one goal in the half, courtesy of freshman Zailor Lopez on a free kick outside the box.

Consistency, meanwhile, is what Trentham will be looking for from his squad as they move forward from the frustrating loss.

“When you see those 20 minutes in the second half, where we played so well, it just leaves you wondering where that was for the other 60 minutes of the game, where that was in the first half,” said the coach. “If you’re just getting crushed the whole game, it’s a different story, but to know that you had it in you to play well and just didn’t is frustrating.”

The Lady Bulldogs will get a chance to correct that this weekend when they had into a Class 4A homestand against Chaparral and Santa Teresa.

“We need to see that sustainability now,” Trentham said. “We’ve played easier teams like Ruidoso, harder teams like Hobbs and Clovis, and one against somebody we felt was about equal in Goddard. Now we need to get back to our division and matching up well against those teams like we did against Silver City and Deming, getting those wins that matter down the road.”

The Lady ‘Dogs will host Chaparral at 4 p.m. Friday at The Mack and Santa Teresa at 11 a.m. Saturday for Senior Day.