Back in August, The Baltimore Sun's 1992 All-Metro Boys Soccer Coach of the Year, Bill Stara, thought Centennial's chances of repeating as Class 3A state champion seemed chancy at best. He certainly never expected another unbeaten season.
The Eagles had graduated two players, Josh Baer and Tod Downen, who had combined for 29 goals and 16 assists the year before when Centennial went 14-0-2.
Brock Yetso, the returning all-county goalkeeper, had injured his knee and would not be ready to start the season, if he was able to play at all.
And the team lost 10 days of preseason practice when the county school superintendent eliminated summer pay for soccer coaches and prohibited them from starting practice, as is customary, on Aug. 15. The late start resulted in some early injuries.
Although Centennial had seven returning seniors, four other Howard County teams had more, including Oakland Mills, Glenelg, Atholton and Hammond. They were primed to take their best shots at Centennial.
"We were just hoping to beat enough county teams to make the playoffs," Stara said. "We knew we'd have to have some lady luck to repeat as state champs."
The season started shakily with a 1-0 victory over Whitman and a 2-2 tie with Gonzaga. But from then on, the Eagles quickly matured and stayed healthy.
Stara, who builds his teams from the back forward, assembled a defense that recorded nine shutouts and allowed nine goals in 16 games.
Offensively, he used senior Rehan Gill to score early in the season, while he slowly groomed freshman Brian West to take a starring striker role.
"We knew that without a Baer [18 goals], our scoring would have to be spread around evenly this season," Stara said. It was. West and sophomore midfielder Doug Ulman led the team with nine goals apiece.
Stara's coaching style is to force other teams to make mistakes. The Eagles run the ball down the lines, protect the ball with their bodies and make opposing teams kick it out of bounds repeatedly, giving Centennial corner kicks or long throw-ins.
Sooner or later, the other team makes a mistake that results in a Centennial goal. Then the Eagles are adept at falling back and creating a defensive shell to protect their lead. Centennial won three 1-0 games this season -- one a shootout against Atholton in the regional final.
Since Stara began coaching at Centennial in 1981, his teams have won five state championships (1983, 1984, 1987, 1991, 1992) and compiled an overall record of 140-17-7.