A lot of things about the Sterling boys soccer team will be new in 2013.
There's a new head coach. There's a new core of players. There will be a new style of play.
One thing that won't change, if all goes well: The Golden Warriors will still be racking up victories.
Sterling did just that in 2012. It was the top seed in the Rochelle Regional, which was supposed to be a mere speed bump on the way to a long postseason run.
Instead, the Hubs pulled off a huge upset on their home field, winning 2-1 and ending the Warriors' season with a 19-3 record. It was a bitter pill to swallow, and ended the careers of a decorated senior class that included Pedro Ocampo, Salomon Ocampo, Bryan Gutierrez, Alfredo Lopez, Danny Navarro and Gabriel Capilla.
That result is still in the minds of returning players, according to first-year head coach Brian Cebula.
"They're hungry from what happened last year," Cebula said. "A lot of those guys left, but these guys still have the sour taste in their mouths. They're doing well. We've changed some things around as far as how we run practices, and they're all buying in."
Cebula is a familiar face to Sterling soccer. He's been the varsity girls coach for four seasons, and he's also been a boys assistant for that same time period. When Chris Interone resigned as head boys coach to pursue a career opportunity this past summer, Cebula took over.
He's in the process of putting his own stamp on the program. The biggest change will be in the team's style of play. Last year's squad was a goal-scoring machine, but it was the graduated seniors who did the bulk of the damage.
A wide-open attack will be replaced with something more conservative.
"We will have to focus on defense," Cebula said, "because we won't be able to get a lot of those games where we can score eight goals, and it doesn't matter if we let in four. We're going to be coming around a few goals, and we need to make sure we minimize what the other team can do offensively. Defense will be a huge focus."
Last year's goalie, senior Jorge Garcia, will take over a defensive position. The new goalie is Jared Fernandez, a first-year junior who hails from Mexico.
"He could end up being one of those key pieces that we need defensively," Cebula said. "We don't want to rely too heavily on him, but it's always nice to have somebody you can rely on in the back."
Carlos Gallardo, a senior midfielder who scored 12 goals last season, doesn't think the Warriors will have much of a dropoff this season, despite the talent that was lost to graduation.
"A lot of our players are improving every day, I can tell," Gallardo said. "If we keep up the hard work, we'll be as good as the players that left us."
Cebula will use the early portion of the schedule as an experimentation period, mixing and matching players in different positions and schemes to see what works best. Winning and losing will take a backseat to finding a player rotation and style of play that fits when the meat of the schedule rolls around.
"It's nice that we get to play a bunch of non-conference games right at the beginning and get a tournament in," Cebula said. "That way I can try all kinds of different stuff. The goal is by the time we begin conference play, we've got the machine rolling."