Room to grow

CNJ Staff photo: Tony Bullocks Clovis senior Stephanie O’Neal, left, watches coach Shane Leatherwood lead a defensive drill during practice earlier this week. The Lady Wildcats open their season Friday in a tournament in Artesia

By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer

It’s been a few years since the Clovis High girls soccer team has put together a winning season, but the Lady Wildcats think that may be about to change.

Second-year coach Shane Leatherwood believes that with a solid defense, his squad has the ability to do it this fall.

“Our mindset is good,” he said. “I really believe we can be over .500.

“I don’t expect us to break any scoring records, but I think we can maybe score two or three a game. Our defense is fast.”

Clovis faces Class 3A Las Vegas Robertson at 5 p.m. Friday in its first game of the Artesia Invitational.

The Lady Cats went 5-11-1 in 2006 and dropped all four District 4-5A matches against Hobbs and Carlsbad, although they pushed both teams.

Senior midfielder Lora Esquivel, who has been in the program since eighth grade, said that has given the players some confidence.

“If we work hard, I think by the time we get to district, we can beat Carlsbad and Hobbs,” she said. “We just have to believe in ourselves.

“I really believe in us. I think we’re going to have an awesome season, despite what people (outside the program) might think.”

While Esquivel said some might consider girls soccer a “small” program compared to some of the other sports, the Lady Cats are hoping to make their mark.

“People don’t pay as much attention to us as they do other sports,” she said. “But I think we’re ready to show people we’re more than just a small, little program.

“We have to stick together as a team and trust in each other. We have to encourage each other.”

Junior midfielder Jasiman Dykes has also been in the program since she was in eighth grade. Senior defender Stephanie O’Neal, who moved to Roswell High early in the last school year, has transferred back and Leatherwood believes she’ll be a big help.

Senior Celsey Eldridge is scheduled to replace graduated all-district selection Brittni Jimenez in goal.

Leatherwood is hoping the Lady Cats can end their drought against their district rivals.

“This team has a chance,” he said. “We have a young team, but we have some experience coming back.”