Even with its top two scorers returning from last year, Key School's boys soccer team doesn't expect a repeat performance of last year.
The tiny independent school, situated not far Annapolis' Hillsmere Beach, turned in a 9-3-1 record in 1991 -- its best season in almost a decade.
Not only were the Obezags short in numbers, as is the case every year, they were short on time. Key begins its preseason practices a full three weeks after most other schools, leaving it at a slight disadvantage.
"It's kind of hard starting behind everyone else," said 1991 leading scorer Martin Schnable, a senior striker, who had a team-leading 11 goals and five assists last season. "By the time you play against them, they're just that far ahead of you. I don't know if we'll do as well as last yearn ."
What made last year's contingent so special was its abundance of senior leadership. This fall, the Obezags will have to do without six seniors, including standout goalkeeper Brandon Pletsch, and steady defender Drew Uroskie.
"I felt really good about last season. That was the best team we've had here in seven or eight years," head coach Lee Curry, who is starting his 23rd season.
"I'm at a loss to explain the chemistry we had. You normally don't have that type of senior leadership and poise that we had. It was the scrappiest, most tenacious team we've ever had, and that was because of players like Marshall Illif. His play brought out the aggressiveness in everyone on the team. It brought everyone else's play up a notch."
Illif, a senior striker, booted in seven goals (second on the team) and led the team in assists with seven. Curry expects the duo to once again carry the goal-scoring load.
"We did lose a lot, but at least we have those two coming back. One good thing is that we have over 20 kids out, and that's a great increase from last year."
Midfielder Jeremy Olsen represents the third senior returning. Other returners include juniors Eric Bannet (midfield) and Eric Leshinsky (sweeper), and sophomores Mike Baratta (striker), Dan Feinblum (midfield), Matt Williams (goalkeeper) and Andrew Russell (striker). Top newcomers include Jesus Carrion, a senior foreign exchange student from Spain, and sophomores Pete Cimbolic and Jeremy Freedman.
The Obezags will face a schedule with foes such as Northeast, Grace Brethren (Prince George's County) and Sts. Peter and Paul (Eastern Shore). They will also take on the usually talented junior varsities of St. Mary's and Severn.
"Most teams have two or three good players, but Northeast always has four or five," said Schnable. "Last year we were 5-1 and on a roll, and they came down to play us. They beat us, 6-0, and took some of our momentum."
Even with the rigorous academic demands on Key's athletes, Curry is optimistic that his charges will once again face the challenge of this year's schedule.
"No one's more competitive than we are, in my opinion, said Curry, a guidance counselor at the school, who also heads the school's Outdoor Education program. "We play hard as hell on the field whether we win or lose. Then we forget about it and concentrate on more important things, such as a term paper that might be due on the next day."