Clovis High school seniors, clockwise from bottom, Jesse VanKuren, Kendal Essex, Matt Loewen, and Michael Fernandez have been with the team and coach Shaun Gill from the beginning; enduring two losing seasons in the process. Staff photo by Eric Kluth
By John Eisel
They’ve endured two losing seasons, enough blowouts to cover a lifetime, and if that wasn’t bad enough, snide comments from opponents.
A few times the game was close but they always found ways to fall short. Sometimes the Clovis Wildcats were even up at halftime.
The players had trouble grasping Wildcats coach Shaun Gill’s short-passing, isolation system in the first two seasons. When Clovis fell down a few goals, players freelanced. So, instead of a team of 11 players, Clovis had 11 players on the field.
Practice became excruciating and players grumbled.
“You didn’t want to be out here,” remembers senior captain Kendal Essex said. “You didn’t want to come out here and practice.”
Over the two years, this year’s senior class lost three of its seven members. They were tired of losing. Senior captain Matt Loewen said he considered quitting at times.
“After you lose that many games and put that effort into it, it’s really disheartening,” he said.
Essex invested 10 years of his life to soccer, so he wasn’t going to quit. Neither was fellow senior Michael Fernandez.
While Essex and Loewen had been on varsity since they were sophomores, Fernandez spent much of last season on the junior vars ity squad with fellow senior Jesse VanKuren.
VanKuren said he was a little worried about moving up to varsity, considering the past two seasons.
But a good junior varsity squad moving up brought some hope to the team.
The four Clovis High senior soccer players stuck it out and are now reaping the rewards. They’ve already won more games this season (5-5) than the last two seasons combined (4-34).
After two-a-days, Clovis took on the alumni team for a preseason game. Gill said the alumni team has won for at least the last decade. After the Wildcats built a quick 2-0 lead, the alumni came back, building the pressure before halftime. Their play slipped and the current Cats felt the game slipping away.
“If we had lost the alumni game everyone might start thinking, ‘Well it’s just another year of losses,’” Loewen said.
With the players together during halftime, Loewen said to Gill, “I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is we’re playing sloppy, but the good news is we saved a lot of money on car insurance by switching to Geico.”
The team loosened up, and a late goal gave them a 4-3 win.
Essex said the game was a confidence booster going into the season, as the Cats started off 2-0. That’s more wins than all of 2002. Five straight losses followed to some tough teams, but instead of apathy, the players were hungry.
“The hard knocks we’ve had the last couple of years have trained the seniors — especially Matt and Kendal — (and) have gotten them ready to grow. We don’t want to go back down on that road we’ve been on,” Gill said.
The Wildcats are back to their winning ways — the latest addition to the streak was a 10-0 win Saturday against Ruidoso.
But Ruidoso never heard the laughs or taunts the Wildcats endured.
“It was nice to actually be winning by that much instead of losing, but at the same time I did kind of feel for the other team,” Loewen said.
“I was proud of the guys that they handled themselves with class,” Gill said. “It could have been ugly and we could have had some hard feelings, but I think the Ruidoso kids walked off the field going, ‘That’s a good team.’”