Normally the loss of two first team all-state players would make it difficult for any team to repeat as state champions. But don't tell that to the Pine Creek Eagles boys soccer team.
With the fall season underway, the Eagles find themselves without three key components to last season's championship team. Yet, they are still expected to remain well in the hunt — and are considered favorites by some — to walk away as champions for a second straight year. In fact, the Eagles opened up as No. 1 in CHSAANow.com's preseason poll.
But coach Ben Corley insists that his team's key to success is not the personnel, but their ability to identify what makes them successful as a team and maintaining those standards throughout the season.
"The biggest thing is looking at last season and identifying the character traits and the attributes that are a part of the DNA of our program," Corley said. "Our success (last season) came out of focus and the amount of daily work that we put in."
The Eagles have been a staple in the state tournament for the last several years, but finally got over the hump with their 1-0 double-overtime win against Rock Canyon back in November.
With the added pressure of defending their title, they're choosing to look at the task similar to the way they did last season. While a second straight championship is the ultimate goal, they have to conquer every practice and succeed in each game in order to reach that mountain top.
"It's not about looking a big, broad-stroke concept such as defending a championship," Corley said. "It's as much about replicating those steps rather than worrying about the results."
The Eagles will be without all-state players Aaron Haefner and David Meyer. Meyer's absence will probably be felt the most as he minded the net for the Eagles during their title run. But the Eagles won't be found at any pity party over the loss of their seniors. Instead, they're anxious to see how their shoes will be filled.
"We feel like there are opportunities for guys to step up. It's more opportunity than anything," Corley said. "Our backup keeper last year, Logan Thomas, was a junior. He's excited to step in and be the guy in goal. He's also a varsity basketball player and has a lot of hops."
It will help that senior midfielder Nick Bannister returns to the team. Bannister is the only returning all-state player for Pine Creek and ranked second on the team in goals scored.
They'll need Bannister to be in top form early in the year as the Eagles first four games consist of three of the CHSAANow.com top-10 ranked teams. The non-league blitz against Cherry Creek, Rangeview and Denver East will give the Eagles a glimpse of how their 2014 competition will shape up.
Class 5A boys soccer
Defending Champion: Pine Creek
Runner-up: Rock Canyon
Returning All-State Players: Nick Banniser Sr., Pine Creek (1st); Kevin del Mazo, Sr., Smoky Hill (1st); Zach Fronapfel, Sr., Fort Collins (1st); Ben Overholt, Sr., Chatfield (1st); Walter Prince, Sr., Smoky Hill (1st); Chase Breslaw, Sr., Heritagee (2nd); Peter Hendricks, Sr., Ralston Valley (2nd); Marcus Krause, Sr., Doherty (2nd); Colton Ladyga, Sr., Smoky Hill (2nd); Dalton Lundberg, Sr., Heritage (2nd); Jorge Rangel, Sr., Grandview (2nd); Roberto Valasquez, Sr., Highlands Ranch (2nd); Nick Vergara, Sr., Eaglecrest (2nd)
Regular season begins: Aug. 21
Playoffs begin: Oct. 23
State Championship: Nov. 8 at Dick's Sporting Goods Park (Commerce City)