Clovis sophomore Juan Macias lands on his hands as he is upended by junior goalie Josh Bussen during practice Tuesday at Yucca Soccer Complex. (CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth)
By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
If the Clovis High boys soccer team is going to have success this season, the tone could be set early.
The Wildcats, who began fall workouts on Monday at Yucca Soccer Complex, open Aug. 19-20 with their own four-team, round-robin invitational, then host New Mexico Military on Aug. 23.
Senior center midfielder Kiko Velez said the team needs to take advantage of the opportunity.
“Clovis has never won their own invitational, so that’s something we want to do,” he said. “It really sets the tone for the rest of the year. (Winning it would be) a big morale booster, really.”
Fourth-year coach Shaun Gill welcomed around 40 candidates for the squad. The Cats went 6-14 last year, losing all eight of their District 4-5A tilts.
Nonetheless, he sees improvement on the horizon, noting that nine of the team’s top 13 players are back from a year ago.
“You can tell guys worked harder this summer,” he said. “You can tell we’re in a lot better shape.
“I’ve made (early practices) a lot tougher, and they’re handling it well.”
Gill said there were good turnouts for weightlifting and conditioning sessions. The Cats have struggled since winning a large-school state championship in 1998.
As one of the team’s captains, Valez said he hopes to exert a positive influence on his teammates.
“My main focus is going to be to keep our chemistry up,” he said. “We’ve always had talent, but our chemistry has been a problem.
“If we can overcome our bickering on the field, I think we can contend in our district.”
Clovis will compete in a three-team district this fall against rivals Hobbs and Carlsbad, instead of the five-team circuit of the recent past that included two Albuquerque schools.
“It’s going to be a lot different,” Velez said. “But we’ve been able to get close against Carlsbad and Hobbs. We’re going to really try to focus and pull through this year.”
Hobbs is one of the teams in the invitational here, along with Artesia and Ruidoso. Gill said he wouldn’t mind playing the Eagles for the championship in what will be the tourney’s final game.
“We won two out of three last year (to finish second in the tournament),” he said. “We lost to Alamogordo (in the finals), which shouldn’t have happened.
“The majority of these guys have played together for a while, but I think the tournament can be a confidence booster for the new guys. It would be great to start off the season with three straight wins.”