Following a year in which it stormed to the Sierra League title, finished 20-3-4, outscored its opponents by an average of 2.08 to 0.44 and graduated six seniors, the Carson boys soccer team has only one direction to go if you talk to first-year head coach Nate Brigham, and that way is up.
"(The team) looks as good now as it did at almost any point last year," Brigham said following the Senators' first practice of the season last week. "I'm comfortable starting any of our 18 kids at any time against any team."
That could spell bad news for the rest of the teams in the Sierra League " for that matter, in the state.
Brigham succeeds Jason Koop, who stepped down due to philosophical differences with Carson High School's administration. The move came early this year, a few months after the Senators lost to South Tahoe in the semifinals of the Northern 4A regional playoffs. Carson didn't allow a goal in the postseason, losing 4-2 in penalty kicks against the Vikings.
In spite of Brigham's confidence in them, don't expect any of the Senators to be resting easy.
"The boys know that they have to work harder, that nobody is guaranteed a spot," Brigham said. "Nobody can be lackadaisical. It will benefit us at the end of the season."
Brigham said the team will shift its approach a bit and he has shaken up the roster to further the effect.
Senior Adam Updegrove, who had a team-high 13 goals and eight assists as a forward in 2007, has been switched to midfielder and will occasionally move back to the top of the field.
Senior John Nuthall, a defender last season, will join Updegrove in the midfield, as the Senators try to adjust from their old grass field to that of the new FieldTurf of the football field where they will play most of their games.
"Last year we relied a lot on the top with Adam " we let him beat people," said Brigham, who assisted Koop for two years. "He did a great job, but we relied too heavily on it and they shut it down. Grass was perfect for passing over the top; this year we'll play more of a possession game. We'll build the ball up front as a team instead of knocking it up to one player.
"With quick passing and the possession game we play, the (FieldTurf) suits that perfectly. If we have short, quick passes on the ground, we can take on anybody."
For his part, Nuthall is ready to make the adjustment and accept the challenges his new position entails.
"It's a real change " I have to be in better shape than last year when I was trying to prevent goals," Nuthall said. "There's more glory. There's no 'I' in 'team,' but I'll be looking to put the ball in the net."
"John has great vision and ball-handling," Brigham said. "He'll do more for the team in the midfield than in the back and he's excited for it."
Updegrove didn't seem to mind the change, either.
"I like playing both positions," he said. "They're going put me in the middle to try and control the field more, then they may move me up to score. We'll be a good team. If we play our game, we'll be able to compete with anybody this year."
Nuthall agreed with Brigham's assessment of this squad's talent.
"This team is way better," Nuthall said. "Most of us have been on club (soccer) five, six years together. We have chemistry on top. We're not playing for fun. We play serious and take everything serious."
With realignment prompting the exit of Reno, North Valleys and Hug and the addition of Galena, Manogue and Fallon, Brigham said the team is on a mission.
"I had a talk with the boys and told them that every day we're practicing for the league tournament, not the next opponent," he said. "We'll have some tough games " some not so tough " but every day we practice as if tomorrow is the start of the league tournament."