Everything broke the right way last season for Squalicum’s boys’ soccer team, on its way to a second Class 2A title in just five seasons.
The Storm went undefeated, including a 17-game run of not conceding a goal, steamrolling the best the state had to offer in a 5-0 championship game win.
But, as is typical with championship teams, the Storm graduated a ton of seniors — 11 to be exact.
So what remains from the ashes of a title team?
Well, in Squalicum’s case — plenty.
“It’s not as though it’s an entirely new group,” coach Joe McAuliffe said in a phone interview. “It’s not starting from square one. We know what worked for us last year and we’re trying some new things. ... It doesn’t feel like rebuilding.”
While last year’s strength was on the defensive end — the Storm only allowed five goals all season — this season’s squad is focused around the midfield.
Quinn Carpenter, Brandon Burbank, BJ James and Carlos Tovar all will see time in the midfield, as the Storm try to distribute the ball to some very dangerous forwards.
One of those forwards is sophomore Tyler Hughes, who emerged as a star last season, scoring two goals in the championship game.
“He’s so skilled, he needs to start directing things and play a key role in our attack,” McAuliffe said. “He’s no longer the young underclassman.”
Along with Hughes, last year’s junior class, now seniors must take on the leadership role left behind by last year’s vets.
There’s more than enough talent to do so, but they don’t have the luxury of going unnoticed this time around.
The Storm are now the hunted, but coach McAuliffe has been through this gauntlet before.
“I remember winning it in 2009 and the next year, it was a bit of a challenge for the players,” McAuliffe said.
The pressures that come with being a champion extend through each and every game and it takes a special group to maintain composure.
But McAuliffe feels like this team has what it takes to withstand the constant competition offered by the Northwest Conference and the rest of the district.
“This particular group has got the right mindset. They put themselves in each and every game,” McAuliffe said. “Their response has been good. They’re not full of themselves or afraid to make mistakes.”
That frame of mind not only has to extend to winning games but also to not being too infatuated with keeping streaks alive — both the win streak and the shutout streak.
“You can’t ride on past successes and expect that’s going to help,” McAuliffe said. “You have to prove yourself ... and remember if we do get scored on, it’s not the end of the world.”
While the pressures coming off a state title year are numerous, there’s also plenty of excitement that is tied with it as well.
Squalicum is becoming somewhat of a soccer powerhouse, as the girls’ team followed the boys’ championship with its own title and undefeated year. McAuliffe was also a part of the girls’ championship as an assistant coach.
“Squalicum soccer is growing,” McAuliffe said. “More kids came out than ever before. We had 75 or 76 players.”
But it’s the 11 on the field that will make the difference for the Storm and in one of the top districts in the state, the team will be “battle-tested” by postseason.
The trick in finding success if the Storm get to the postseason is sticking to the identity that forms during the regular season as this year’s Storm look to carve this team into the state’s record books.
Right alongside last year’s championship team.