This time last year junior Squalicum defenseman Hans Kogan was measuring up competition on his team, trying to discover where he fit into the Storm's rotation during his first varsity season.
Kogan is one of the "big dogs" now, as he put it.
During three months last spring, Kogan went from being a relative unknown in the prep ranks to a player every opposing coach knew by season's end. He was one of three Squalicum players to earn first-team All-Northwest Conference recognition.
Kogan joined seniors Mike Senko, Tom Hirsh and Ryan Chang to form one of the top back lines in the NWC. Squalicum tied Anacortes for a league-best 22 goals allowed, but the Storm played four more matches than the Seahawks.
The big, physical, quick defender was surprised by his postseason accolades, but he wasn't shocked by his ability to handle opposing offenses.
"I was very surprised with my conference title," Kogan said. "I wasn't expecting that. I was maybe expecting a second or a third team, but there were some really good players in the conference last year. I kind of knew the players in this area, so I wasn't surprised with how I was playing against them, just my standing overall."
Kogan is a Whatcom Rangers product and has played against the state's top competition throughout his soccer career. Last year was his first stint in the high school ranks, and he's taking a much different approach this time around.
No longer is Kogan an underclassman on a senior-laden club. He's beginning to adopt a leadership role on a less experienced 2013 squad.
"It's really different, because last year there were so many seniors, and as a sophomore, I was kind of the little guy out there," Kogan said. "This year there are only four or five seniors. It's a really different role. You're out there showing everybody else what to do."
Squalicum has welcomed Kogan's teaching role. Minus his center-back position being solidified, the Storm are in the midst of reworking its back line. Squalicum has plenty of defenders to choose from. Coach Joe McAuliffe said 10 of the 19 players on his roster are defensive-oriented.
"He's coming in very confident," McAuliffe said of Kogan. "He is transitioning from last year being a sophomore who held his own, to know he is an upperclassman and has a leadership responsibility that comes with that."
McAuliffe has seen Kogan expand his leadership role during preseason training.
"He's transitioning well," the Storm coach said. "When you're a young player you may be reluctant to bark and say what needs to be done, but he know knows what he needs to do."
McAuliffe admitted at the end of last year he knew Kogan would be a good player. He just didn't know how crucial a defender he would be. Kogan was critical. He helped the Storm win a NWC title and reach the Class 2A State Tournament quarterfinals.
Though Kogan embodies many of the physical traits - speed, physicality, quickness, leaping ability - coaches look for in a top-notch defender, McAuliffe said it's his attention to detail and focus that makes him a good centerpiece to build a new defense around.
"He keeps focused, talks and is always adjusting himself and helping players keep their shape," McAuliffe said. "During dead-ball situations, he's still organizing."
Kogan by no means is working with inexperienced youth. Squalicum has several quality defenders who simply haven't earned starting minutes yet largely due to the logjam at the position. Seniors Anh Ngo and Ryan Moore are a couple players who may take a lead role next to Kogan this spring. The Storm have a handful of juniors and a pair of sophomores who also bring different dimensions to the back line.
"I think it won't be as hard as if they were brand new to the table," said Kogan of working with new defenders this year. "All the guys have either played club at one point or played last year, so it won't be really breaking anyone in on the back line. We just need to learn how to respond."
Kogan is hoping the Storm can make another postseason run, but he said the key will be making sure Squalicum gels together early.
"I think we are pretty solid all around," Kogan said. "We just need to group together and sort of meld, because last year our starting lineup was pretty much all seniors. They all knew each other and worked together. We just have to get a good feel for each other."
Squalicum will get its first test when the Storm travels to play Class 3A Marysville-Getchell at 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 11, in Marysville.
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2862.
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call ext. 862.