Denver East, No. 1 in the Class 5A boys soccer RPI standings, is establishing itself as a power in boys soccer.
A year removed from an 18-0 start and a semifinal loss to Broomfield, and the loss of six seniors, Denver East is right back.
"It's always hard to lose. It really doesn't matter when it happens," Denver East coach Kirk Bast said. "I think it's something that you have to look at the lessons with. I think more than the loss part of it is the idea of how close you were. What could happen with a little more focus and a few less mistakes."
The Angels have won 10 of their 11 games this season, and allowed just five goals. They've outscored their opponents 34-5 and have seven shutouts to show for it.
"You have to give the backs credit," Bast said. "We've been rotating five guys in four positions. We trust every single one of them. They already had a connection, and I think that was big. That's something that helps you start forward. This group has learned to figure out what they need to do in order to take pride in those shutouts."
The one loss came last Thursday — a 2-0 league loss to Kennedy.
"In the end, just like anything in life, it can be a good thing if you frame it that way and look at what we learned from it," Bast said. "That's the other part of winning. It's sometimes harder when you're winning to not take it for granted and think it's just going to happen. That's what the Kennedy game did for us.
"It helped our guys realize that it's something where you can't ever take your foot off the gas."
Denver East responded on Wednesday with a 3-0 win against Denver North in which three different players scored for East. Those three players: Sam Carson, Eli Miller and Marko Babiak have scored 22 goals combined.
Last year, that trio was among the top goal scorers as well. Carson notched 19 goals and 10 assists.
Carson has nine goals to lead the team this season.
But, what's truly made the difference for this Denver East team is a strong program through and through.
"I think anytime that you're going to do well as a varsity, you're going to have a strong program," Bast said. "That starts at the freshman and sophomore teams all the way up. Having good coaches and people who care about kids, and care about developing kids. That's how you become a program."
Bast realizes that it can't be solely on the coaches. You have to have kids that are willing to buy into the message that the coaches are pushing.
"We've been building upon that ownership and leadership that was coming from our leaders on the team," Bast said. "It just keeps moving forward because the expectations are already there. Whether it's about behavior, whether it's about focus, whether it's about having fun, they set the tone on who we are.
"A coach can't ask for anything more than having leaders who buy into what the program and team are about."
That leadership from players like Carson, Luke Neureiter and Nico Cappella is something that trickles down and creates a strong foundation for the program as a whole.
"People want to be Messi, people want to be whoever that star is in their sport," Bast said. "On a much lower level, you get to see these guys train, you get to see their habits, and those things rub off. It's one thing to talk about it, it's another thing to do it. When they see those kids doing it day in and day out, that's what builds for the future."
That's exactly what Bast is going for. Building for the future, building a program. The positive results are just a by-product of the foundation Denver East has built.
"So many kids add in so many different ways," Bast said, mentioning names like Sammy Crippen and Will Hughes. "Those are kids now that didn't play as much last year. Now they're contributing a lot. It's neat to have that balance. Those are the guys who really make the program.
"In soccer, you can have one or two great players, and it's not going to be enough. You have to have a team."
Come November, Denver East looks to have the complete package for a run in the state playoffs.
Denver East last made it to the title game in 2011. The Angels beat Heritage 2-0 to grab the program's third title (2011, 2008, 1994).