At the end of last season, one local team stood atop the boys' soccer world.
The Broadalbin-Perth Patriots marched through the regular season, Section II Class B tournament, and finally the state Class B tournament without losing a single match, although there were a couple tie games along the way.
They were the only team last year to go undefeated in all five classes.
Broadalbin-Perth’s Logan Ackley (17) battles Wheatley’s Landon Baker for the ball during the Class B state championship game Nov. 20 at Middletown High School.
Now, the Patriots will experience "the year after." They'll be the target, the team opponents will circle on their calendars, the team they will give a little extra effort.
"We're the small school in the Foothills Council, but as far as I'm concerned, we're not the underdog and there's no reason why we should be at this point," Broadalbin-Perth coach Brian Henry said. "We've lost seven games in the last three years. We can't hide under that underdog umbrella anymore."
However, several other area boys soccer teams can.
Other than Broadalbin-Perth, Mayfield, Wells and Northville were the only other teams in the area to finish with more wins than losses.
The rest of the field is looking to improve upon their sub-.500 seasons in 2011 and improve upon their sectional results.
Last year was a year of firsts for the Patriots after winning the state championship. They were the first Class B team in Section II history to win a state title and the first Foothills Council team to win a state championship. It also was the first state title in school history for any sport.
With the return of the eight starters from last year's team, the Patriots expect to be the class of the Foothills Council again.
"We are extremely motivated to defend our championships, and if we stay healthy, we have a good chance of doing it," Henry said.
While they return a handful of starters, the Patriots will have a big hole to fill in the net with the graduation of Madison Wilcox, a two-year captain and a member of the all-state team. Wilcox had 13 shutouts last year, only allowing 11 goals in 22 games. He also was the Section II and Foothills Council Goalie of the Year.
There are three players on the roster, Devin Page, Pat Brown and Matt Myers, looking to fill the void Wilcox left behind.
They also lost last year's leading scorer, Dominic Kwiatkowski, a captain and member of the all-state team. He scored 16 goals and assisted on 12 others. They also lost the nine goals and eight assists provided by Ethan Church last year.
However, the Patriots bring back first-team Foothills Council all-star Tucker Wilcox, who was second on the team with 12 goals. He assisted on 19 others. Ben Bellandi also scored 12 goals for the Patriots last year, leaving plenty of offense left on a team dedicated to winning another title.
"They're definitely ready," Henry said. "They're excited to get the season going. They've been training and working hard all summer so this is just a formality for us."
When the Patriots take the field tonight against Mechanicville for the first night of the Fulton County Stop DWI tournament, they will also look to keep their 22-game unbeaten streak alive. The streak is the 12th longest in Section II history.
"They're looking forward to new challenges this year," Henry said. "Obviously, they're excited to defend their titles, too."
While the Patriots return a great deal of experience to their team, the neighboring Gloversville Dragons are looking for some experience after losing nine players from last season's 6-10 team. However, coach Paul Ligon said the numbers are up at the varsity level even if they are a little thin on the JVs.
"There is a lot of inexperience coming up to the varsity this year and the players won't have a lot of time to adjust to the speed of the varsity game," Ligon said.
The Dragons will have to replace first-team Foothills Council all-star Nathaniel Ligon and league honorable mention Austin Lee, along with a host of seniors from last year's team. After the departure of nine players from last year's team, only five players - C.J. DeVito, Nick Cirillo, Skyler Deming, Thomas Kirk and Adam Sleezer -return.
With their season starting Wednesday when they host Glens Falls, they will need to adjust quickly.
"We're focusing on getting better each practice individually and as a team," Ligon said. "They're working hard."
The Johnstown Sir Bills also are working hard under the direction of first-year coach Mike Hill, who took over for Jon Jennings, who coached the team for eight seasons.
"We expect to remain competitive in the Foothills, which is a tough task," Hill said. "You have no idea how strong the league is until you play in it."
Hill has an idea as he has coached the JV team for four years before moving up. He takes over a team that has moved back down to Class B after spending a season among the Class A schools. As a Class B team, the Sir Bills have found success, reaching the championship game in both 2009 and 2010. Last year, as a Class A school, they fell to Catholic Central in the first round of the sectional tournament.
Johnstown will open its season today at the South Glens Falls tournament.
The Western Athletic Conference will look a bit different this year as the league expanded from two divisions to three to accommodate the shorter schedule recently imposed by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association. Each team will play their division rivals twice and they will play the other eight teams once each.
Locally, Mayfield and Northville will share a division with Mekeel Christian Academy and Galway. The division had a combined 44-14-6 record last season.
"The new WAC setup leaves us in a very difficult division, but we hope to be competitive," Mayfield coach Jon Caraco said.
Another division will include Canajoharie, Fort Plain, St. Johnsville and Sharon Springs, which combined fore a 21-34-9 record last year. Berne-Knox-Westerlo, Duanesburg, Schoharie and Middleburgh will play in the third division.
The Panthers had the best finish in the WAC North, taking second place, a mere three points behind first-place Galway and five points ahead of third-place Northville. Gone are a large group of seniors from that team, but Caraco has a good idea of where his offense will be generated this season.
"The offense will be led by seniors Dylan Toscano and Jordan Ryder with support from Todd Briggs, Josh Ivancic and James Winsman," Caraco said.
The back third will be led by Eric Wilcox and Matt Chase and Caraco said he expects Jake Palmer and Chris Denton to make "large contributions" to the defense.
About 10 miles to the north, the Northville Falcons are moving on without eight seniors from last year's team. One of the losses is second-team WAC all-star goalkeeper Todd VanNostrand, who recorded nine shutouts last year. They also lose Briggs, who moved to Mayfield after scoring eight goals and three assists for the Falcons last year.
However, plenty of offense returns in the form of Tyler Henderson (seven goals) and Barcley Hayward, who scored six goals as a defender last year. Tom Monette played defense last year and will step into the goal.
"We have a strong core of players returning from last season and several new players looking to step in and make a difference," Northville coach Stephen Clapper said.
The Falcons also will add a group of newcomers, made up of seniors, juniors and sophomores, to the varsity squad. Newcomers will have to fill out the five remaining starting positions.
"Our inexperience may show early in the season, but if the players continue to work as hard as they have during the summer and during preseason, and if we can get all the pieces to fit just right, we are excited about the possibilities," Clapper said.
Fort Plain, which will remain in the same division as St. Johnsville/Oppenheim-Ephratah, this season came into preseason camp a little out of shape this year.
"We've been doing a lot of conditioning stuff," Fort Plain coach Casey Russom said. "We've been working on a lot of skill and playing simple. We'll see how it goes."
The Hilltoppers, who were fourth in the WAC North last year, lost only three players from last year's team and return a bulk of their starters.
"We have some experience," Russom said. ""We have about nine or 10 returners from last year, which is good. Just because you have returners doesn't mean you're going to be good. They have to get better."
The Hilltoppers got their first taste of interscholastic play late last week with scrimmages against Broadalbin-Perth, Mayfield, Northville, Johnstown and Fonda-Fultonville. It gave Russom a taste of where his team's progress stands as the Hilltoppers head into their regular-season opener.
As the season goes on, what the team can accomplish is up to the players, he said.
"They have to decide what they want to play for," Russom said. "If they want to be average, that's what we'll be. If they play to be great, we can do that as well. It's up to them."
Last year's fifth-place St. Johnsville/Oppenheim-Ephratah team lost five players and return two all-stars in Dakota Mereness and Johnny Vicciarelli. Also back is Dylan Klock, who started as an eighth-grader last year.
"We have been working hard this offense and many of the team members have played all year long," St. JOE coach Travis Heiser said. "We are looking to compete in a very competitive WAC league and qualify for postseason play."
The Canajoharie Cougars, under the direction of second-year coach Blake Smith, need to replace 10 seniors, but Smith said he expects the offense to be stronger.
Gone are two WAC all-stars in Gabe Cirtwell and Dom Mazzerella and Andy Smith, who was a five-year starter. Returning are Zachary Bowerman, who Smith described as the Cougars' best player.
Also starting will be Logan Sala, who started every game last year as a sophomore. Sophomore Gordon Trahan will start and Taylor Fleig was the only returning starter on defense.
"We hope to win our division and make sectionals again," Smith said.
The Fonda-Fultonville Braves return a solid core of players from last year's 5-9-0 team, as the team looks to keep improving in the Colonial Council.
After losing eight players from last year's team, coach Matt Bloom's team welcomes back 17 players. Those 17 will mix with four newcomers.
"With many returners from last year's squad, we look to build on last season's success and become competitive in the Colonial Council," Bloom said.
The Amsterdam Rams also return most of their team, after graduating only one senior starter from last year's team, goalkeeper John Toper. However, first-year coach Adam Fetterly said the Rams will expect big things from his replacement, junior goalkeeper and captain Jared Weissman.
The Rams will return nine other starters that will mix with three newcomers.
"Amsterdam hopes to give the league a good run this year and compete in every game," Fetterly said. "By only graduating one starter last season, Amsterdam will rely on its experience and look for the leaders to step up."
The Wells Indians also will have a new coach this year as Don Beach takes over for Steve Tomlinson, who coached the team for the past two seasons.
He takes over a team that lost only two players, Dylan Zemken and Kyle Scribner.
Thirteen players will return from last year's roster. The team also will have three girls on the roster since the district won't field a girls team this year due to low numbers..
With a strong returning core and a 9-5-0 record in 2011, Beach is optimistic about the upcoming season.
"I think we will have a good season," Beach said. "We are well conditioned, well disciplined and are working on a more ball control, possession-style game, which is coming along very well."