LAFAYETTE -- Before the start of the 2017 boys prep soccer campaign, Centaurus coach Lee Stanley sat down and planned out an end of the season getaway to just decompress from the stress of the journey.
He studied the dates and initially didn't think much about the mid-November trip until he realized it was at the same time as the Class 4A state finals. His young Warriors were good, but were they state championship caliber?
Yes they were.
Centaurus' magical run to Dick's Sporting Goods Park and subsequent (and controversial in the soccer world) overtime loss to undefeated Air Academy 1-0 in the 4A championship match was just a stepping stone to the potential they bring to the pitch this season.
"It's hard to get away from what happened, its comes up almost everyday and talking about it is rough," said Stanley, whose team should have been playing a man-up in the overtime against the Kadets after an intentional handball in the box by a defender was not booked properly. "But it is what it is."
And much like they did the prior season, when they used an early playoff defeat as motivation for the next year, this group not only has that chip on their shoulder, but has a wealth of talent to make something special happen.
"The success we had and how we got to where we did was pretty special and making sure the returning players know how hard we worked and in the face of controversy, how we responded to it is more important than what happened," said Stanley, who was on a plane just hours after the final for that getaway. "We talked a lot about being OK with how we played and not worrying about what happened in the final minute."
The state has clearly taken notice of what Centaurus and their schedule dictates it. In addition to a scheduled scrimmage against Boulder, the Warriors will play 5A champion Broomfield, 4A champ Air Academy and last years 3A top-seed Jefferson Academy.
Its a gauntlet that will surely test their resolve not only going into a strong Northern League, but also the postseason.
Many of the familiar faces are back for the Warriors, including the dynamic junior duo of Fernando Ruiz and Christian Nunez, who combined for 38 goals last season and were both first team All-Region selections.
"We have a chance to win some games," Ruiz said. "We feel good when we practice, we feel stronger."
Said Nunez, who knows the group around him will be able to handle the expectations that come with having the target on their backs: "We know we have great players and we have great teammates. So I think everything will turn out and it'll be fun to see how far we get again this year."
And while Ruiz and Nunez will dominate a majority of the headlines for their ability to control the midfield and put the ball in the back of the net, its the defense -- anchored by seniors Connor Stephan and Cristian Rice -- that will be just as big a key.
"We got a bunch of people back and there are a lot of guys up from the junior varsity that are stepping up an impressing," Stephan said. "I think we are going to be equally strong on defense."
Centaurus will officially begin the season on Aug. 24 at Broomfield and Stanley admitted, "that our schedule may keep us pretty grounded,"
"Expectation may sort themselves out," Stanley continued. "We know we are going to have a lot more eyes on us and those teams are going to come after us. But we are now being looked at as the team to beat and you'll have to beat us in order to make a mark yourself."
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