BROADALBIN - Exactly nine months after winning the first New York State Public High School Athletic Association championship in school history, the Broadalbin-Perth boys soccer team returned to the practice field Monday.
It was the first time the Patriots have officially been together since celebrating their title win last November at Middletown High School.
"I'm pumped," said returning starter A.J. Klemczak. "This is the first time I've been pumped in a while to come to double sessions. I'm hungry for another state title."
Broadalbin-Perth boys soccer coach Brian Henry, second from left, supervises practice Monday at Patriot Field in Broadalbin. (The Leader-Herald/Mike Zummo)
The Patriots have been to the state Final Four in two of the past three seasons, finally winning their coveted title Nov. 20, 2011, with a 1-0 win over Section VIII champion Wheatley. Two years earlier, they reached the state semifinals, but were defeated 2-0 by Section III champion Marcellus.
But for the 2012 Patriots, last year's championship is motivation for a team that returns eight starting players.
"It was definitely a special run," Klemczak said. "I've never felt anything like it. The journey getting there was just great. I'm really pumped to start it off again. I want to get back there again just to feel that feeling."
That feeling came after compiling a 19-0-3 record, a Foothills Council championship, the team's second Section II Class B championship along their way to Middletown.
Coach Brian Henry said the Patriots came into preseason camp in better shape this year than last year.
"We're not expecting any sort of state championship hangover here," Henry said. "These guys want another one. They've recognized they have a unique opportunity with returning eight starters and a lot of bench players that a situation like this doesn't come around all that often. If we stay healthy, the motivation is there for these guys."
That could be a scary proposition for the rest of the league and section, as the team has been working hard since winning last year's championship. Klemczak said they have been running a program that they adopted from the U.S. national soccer team, and players have been doing sprints, running hills, line sprints, basically doing anything they could to be ready for 2012.
That doesn't include the travel soccer many Patriots have played throughout the year.
"They've been very very active," Henry said. "I'd like to say there was some down time for some of them, but in reality, a lot of these guys have been playing since November. The fall season ended and we picked right back up. It's become a year-round thing over here and that's a good thing."
Despite having eight starters returning to their lineup, the Patriots will need to find a replacement in the goal, a position anchored by Madison Wilcox, who graduated in June.
"The new guys definitely have a lot of promise," Klemczak said. "They're looking really good. Some started last year some games when they came up from JV. They know what it takes to start. They know what it takes to play. I think they'll be ready."
While some of last year's JV players will be ready for action this year, the program's youngest players also are doing what they need to prepare for their time on varsity. Despite an official Sept. 4 start date to their preseason, modified players also were at the field for a voluntary practice.
"[The program] is better and stronger than ever," Henry said. "These little guys out here are out here training. They're voluntarily practicing. These are all my ball boys, but they look at this as an opportunity to kick the ball around and do that. We are bigger, better, stronger than ever. The state title has done nothing but wonders for us."