Last year, the Coal City soccer team lost to Wilmington, 1-0 — twice.
The first loss came during the regular season, but it wasn't the end of the world. The loss in the Serena Regional, however, signaled the end of the Coalers' season when a penalty kick decided the outcome.
On the bright side, most of Branden Petersen's team is back this fall and will be looking to improve on the 6-13 slate from last season.
"We've got a lot of returning players and it should be a fun season. I'm looking forward to watching us pick up where we left off last year," Coal City captain Clay Kauzlaric said. "We have a lot of potential. We played well at the end of last season and now we want to build on it."
Not only did Petersen lose just three seniors from a year ago, he also has a record turnout to work with.
"We only lost three seniors from last year and this is the most kids we've every had out (26). That's nice because now that means I can field a J.V.-only team," Petersen said. "In the past I had to worry about getting kids playing time and if I threw in a freshman into the game in the past, probably 50 percent of the time that is when the other teams would score a goal. It's just a tough situation to put freshmen and other underclassmen unto."
That is one factor that could help the Coalers turn that sub-.500 record around. Other factors Include playing together, working as a team and taking care of "the little things."
"This senior group has been together and playing for a while now," Kauzlaric said. "Even the guys in the junior class — we've been playing well together for a while now."
"We're talking better together than we have in the past. It helps because we know what the others are doing," senior captain Tony Norris said. "We know what we need to do and we also know what we do well."
"For us to compete is going to mean that we have to take care of the little things," senior captain Zach Pierard said. "Those are the things we need to do right if we want to be a better team and to see everything come together.
"Mainly I'm talking about making the easy passes and not doing anything too fancy. If we stick to the basics, we'll be fine. I think we've definitely improved a lot from last year. I think we've got a very good chance of winning our first few games."
The hardest player for Coal City to replace from last year is sweeper Tommy Fatigante.
"He was the leader of our defense," Petersen said. "Right now we have like five guys who are in the picture to replace him. We're auditioning as many as three or four juniors and even a sophomore to play back there and fill that role."
Petersen also indicated that his team might tinker with formations this year as it waits to see how things play out.
"We usually play a 4-4-2 but this year we are going to experiment a little with a 4-3-3 and push a few more players up the field. But that will all depend on the defense. If we play good defense, I have a lot of confidence in our offense ... We have between four and five pretty good offensive players this year."
The bottom line is that the Coalers want to do whatever it takes in order to compete
"I think if you look at the scores, we were in all but maybe three games. I think we lost either 5-0 or 6-0 three times. Every other game we either had a one or two goal differential," Petersen said.
"The conference is always tough. Just a couple of years ago, Lisle was state champions and both Manteno and Herscher beat them that year in the regular season. Last year Lisle finished second in the state. Any one of those three teams could be there this season. We'd like to stay competitive with them and to stay within striking distance. After those three teams you have Wilmington, Westmont, Plano, Sandwich and Reed-Custer and the six of us are pretty equal. How we do against those teams will tell us what kind of season we had."
No matter what the final record turns out to be, Norris indicated that the team plans on going at full speed all season long.
"We're going to play hard," Norris said. "We probably don't have the most skilled team around, but we are going to play hard and we're going to put in the effort game in and game out. That should be what you'll see when you watch us play this year."