The Columbus High girls soccer team made it to the state tournament in 2018 after going 10-4, but the team graduated eight seniors and will have plenty of new faces as the Discoverers look for another trip to Omaha.
Despite the lineup changes, coach Luis Pulido believes there's more than enough talent and experience remaining to build a solid team.
"I think we'll be pretty competitive," he said after practice last week. "I know we lost eight starters, so everyone is kind of wondering what's going to happen to us. I honestly feel like we'll be pretty competitive, still."
Columbus lost to Omaha Skutt Catholic in the first round of the state tournament a season ago. The Skyhawks scored twice in the first eight minutes en route to a 3-1 victory.
It was the 12th trip to state in program history, the second in a row and the third in five years. CHS' best finish ever was as runners-up in 2005.
That season was also the last time the Discoverers have notched a win in Omaha - defeating Millard North 1-0 and Omaha Burke 1-1 in a shootout before falling to Lincoln East 1-0 in the Class A championship match.
After the team featured eight seniors last year, CHS will only have three seniors on the pitch this season - Bella Beltran, Macee Trotta and Ana Dominguez.
The start to the 2018 season included a 3-2 mark with wins over Lakeview, Norfolk and Fremont and losses at Lincoln North Star and Lincoln Southwest.
The Discoverers then went on a seven-match win streak over North Platte, Grand Island, Hastings, Kearney, Hastings again, Lexington and Nebraska Lutheran/Norfolk Catholic.
They lost in the sub-district final to Scotus Central Catholic but had the necessary wildcard points to advance to the district final where they beat Blair in a shootout 3-1.
The first game of the 2019 season was set for Friday at Wilderness Park in the Scotus Invitational, but the event has been cancelled due to weather.
The next planned game is against Grand Island at Wilderness park at 5 p.m. on Monday.
The weather has also had a negative effect on practice. Like many teams across the state, Columbus had had few training sessions outdoors due to the poor conditions.
With so many new faces, the Discoverers are learning team chemistry on the fly.
"The seniors are finding their voice," Pulido said. "It's not just them leading the team. We voted for captains yesterday and there was eight different names that got brought up. That just speaks to the unity and how everyone has a voice.
"The seniors this year on the first day of practice told the freshman, 'We need you to talk. Just because you're younger does not mean anything. We want you to step up just as much as we're going to work hard,' and that's been different. We've never had that before."
The returning leading goal scorer for CHS is sophomore Madison Jenny who put three past the keeper as a freshman. She was the second-leading goal scorer behind Kennedy Jones who has since graduated on to Wayne State.
Junior Sofia Gomez scored two goals while Beltran had one.
In the assists category, Emily Goc led the team last year with five, but also graduated.
Sophomore Katelyn Lantis recorded two assists, while Gomez, Jenny and Dominguez tallied one.
This year could see an increase in the pace of play for the Discoverers. With multiple offensive weapons Pulido wants the Discoverers to push the tempo and create chances with speed and athleticism.
"This year our main focus is organization as a whole," he said. "We've always try to be a team that moves off the ball. We want whoever has the ball to have two or three options. That's our main focus offensively.
On the other side of the ball, we're working on being organized. Our speed of play, compared to previous years, I see us playing a lot faster which is good. We've never had that speed."
Columbus will once again have a competitive district with Lakeview, Scotus, Schuyler and Lutheran High/Norfolk Catholic all vying for postseason success.
Peter Huguenin is a sports reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com