CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks Sophomore forward Daniel Rojas works on a trapping drill during Clovis High boys soccer practice earlier this week. The Wildcats open the season at Rio Rancho on Saturday.
By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
Last year was a breakthrough season for Clovis High boys soccer under coach Shaun Gill, and the Wildcats are hoping to build on it.
Clovis went 13-6-1 in 2006, Gill’s first winning season at the school. And with a 3-5 District 4-5A mark against Hobbs and Carlsbad over the past two seasons, it’s becoming harder for the Cats to sneak up on anybody.
“The guys understand that,” Gill said as the Cats prepare for Saturday’s opener at Rio Rancho. “We had a good season last year, and we think we can do it again.”
Clovis was hurt by graduation, notably on defense. Gill said if the Cats can find replacements, they should be in good shape.
“My defense is going to be really young,” he said. “But (this year’s group) played really well against the alumni (in a preseason scrimmage). We have some good, young players coming up on defense.”
Gill said he feels good about the Cats’ attack, noting that they have seniors at the forward position and “more depth in the midfield than we’ve ever had.”
Senior Juan Gonzales, the only defender who returns to the starting lineup, said the newcomers can pick up the slack.
“We have just as much skill this year,” he said. “The only thing pulling us back would probably be our endurance, but coach is trying to get us caught up on that.”
He added that trying to keep opponents away from the Clovis net is the biggest key. Junior Robbie Pinder, a backup last season to the graduated Josh Bussen, is slated to take over in the net.
“We have great skills in our midfield; putting (goals) in is where we have the skills,” Gonzales said. “Trying to stop goals is where the pressure’s on me.”
The Cats decided not to host a season-opening tournament this year. Instead, after being left out of possible Class 5A tournament at-large berths each of the past two seasons, Gill opted to try to play more 5A competition across the state.
In addition to Rio Rancho, the team will face Las Cruces High and Alamogordo in a tournament at Alamo next weekend. They also host Los Lunas in early October.
“Saturday’s going to be a learning experience,” Gill said. “Rio Rancho’s always a Top-10 5A school. We’re going to learn our strengths and our weaknesses real quick.
“If we come back with a good, solid win, it’ll prove to these guys that they’re ready to compete.”
The Cats have beaten Hobbs at home in each of the last two years, and Carlsbad at home in 2005. They think they’re getting more competitive away from home as well.
“It’s always harder playing away, no matter what,” Gonzales said.