This season will have a much different feel for the Christian Brothers boys soccer team.
Last year, the Falcons were simply trying to improve on an underwhelming 2012 season.
Now, they begin their first season in the Capital Athletic League as the defending Sac-Joaquin Section Division III champions. The Falcons defeated Central Valley of Ceres 3-2 in the final last November for their seventh section title overall and first since 2002.
The Falcons are led again by forward Kristian Heptner, who scored an area-high 36 goals last season. Heptner scored in a 1-1 tie with McClatchy in Friday’s season opener.
There were some growing pains last year. The Falcons were outscored 8-1 their first three games and were 0-2-1. But once Heptner began finding the net, the defense and midfield were able to feed off his play. The Falcons lost just once more, won the Capital Valley Conference title, and finished with a 15-3-4 record.
“There was a point in the season where we were always able to find a way to win,” coach Jacob Hunley said. “Even if we didn’t play great, the team battled and we were mentally pretty strong. We found that groove, and the kids got used to winning. They enjoyed the feeling and were willing to work hard so that each game we got the result that we needed.”
Even though the Falcons had to replace three key starters on defense, almost half the players are seniors, and they are relishing their new role as the team to beat. Senior Louis Heinzer scored six goals and had eight assists last season. Senior Jackson McMullen had a team-high 11 assists and assisted Heptner on Friday.
“The kids are embracing it,” Hunley said. “They enjoy a little bit of publicity and a little bit of respect, but at the same time, we’re not getting ahead of ourselves. We know that last year didn’t come easily, and it took a lot of hard work. It was an entire team effort, and we’re really looking to build on last year’s success.”
It all starts with Heptner. If the 6-foot-3, 180-pound senior can deliver a respectable encore this fall, Christian Brothers could find itself in the thick of the title chase again.
“He’s got that unique personality of a striker that he wants the ball at all times,” Hunley said. “He likes the pressure, and he wants to be the guy that has to come up big in big situations. Great teams need great players like that.”
Heptner’s breakout year undoubtedly will lead to more attention from opposing defenses. Adjusting his game accordingly has been a priority for the captain.
“It’s just working as a team player and involving everyone else,” Heptner said. “Just making sure that everyone else has their development and that I can be the best team player I can be. If that means I assist on a goal, if I stop a goal, if I score a goal – whatever it is – I just want to win.”
Hunley said his team is “far from a finished product.” And, like last year, the early focus will be on finding the right starting 11 and reliable substitutes without any drop-off in play.
“We’re still figuring out what this team is made of,” Hunley said. “Some of the roles might change, and we might have to move some guys around and change the formation to play to our strengths.”
Regardless of the unanswered questions, Heptner is confident his team can be successful again.
“I think we have the guys that can take it all the way,” he said. “It just comes down to who’s got the drive and who wants to win it.”