After finishing in the bottom third of their division last season and missing the playoffs, many members of the Pallotti boys soccer team felt their season was not up to the standards they had set for themselves. They finished the season with a record of 3-11-1.
This season, the team has a different feel to it. With 12 seniors on the roster, Pallotti could field its best team in a long time.
"It's the best team we've had in the past few years," said longtime head coach Steve Shurman.
"I think we have a lot of potential," senior goalkeeper Warren Thompson said. "I expect to have a very good year. We all do because we have worked hard since last season ended."
About 10 members of the team, including Thompson, played together in a local summer league, and Thompson feels the extra play will help him enjoy his best season in a Panthers uniform. The Panthers also return several impact players from last season, including senior midfielder Paul Lewis, who was an All-conference selection last year.
"I really want to go to the playoffs this year, maybe win a championship," Thompson said. "We have 12 seniors, a lot of them starting and we've been playing together a lot, so I expect to have a good year."
Pallotti plays in the nine-team B division in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association, and the top six teams advance to the playoffs. Pallotti split its first two games, defeating Mount Carmel, 3-1, and suffering a 7-0 defeat to nationally ranked DeMatha of Hyattsville.
Shurman, a graduate of DeMatha, said of the Stags: "They're in a different stratosphere."
Although Pallotti struggled at times last season, players on this senior-laden team feel they can compete with the best of the MIAA B Division, including last season's champion, St. Paul's. Thompson said his team is ready and looking forward to playing St. Paul's on Wednesday, Sept. 14, at home, "because they're good, maybe the best in our division."
In addition to the 12 seniors, there are several underclassmen that will look to make a serious impact, including junior Blake Cottington, a transfer from local soccer power River Hill High in Clarksville.
"We needed Cottington at outside back," Thompson said. "He will definitely contribute to our team."
The Panthers did lose two important seniors from last year's team in Joe Florenzo and Cal Passmore, but with so much experience returning, Shurman thinks his team can compete for the conference title.
"That's our goal, absolutely, to make the playoffs," Sherman said. "And then once we make it to the playoffs, we hope that we're playing well enough where we can compete for a championship. It's going to be tough because there are a lot of really good teams, but I think if we're playing to the best of our ability that we should be in the mix to win it all."
Sherman was head coach from 1997-2000 before moving to coach and teach in Wilson, N.C., for a few years. He returned to become head coach for the Panthers again in 2003.
"Coach is very encouraging," junior Braulio Ramon said. "He doesn't yell at us or anything, he just encourages us. He fixes our mistakes, of course, but he's very encouraging about how to go about the problem and fix it."
There are a few changes to the conference alignment this season as well. There is no longer a north and south in the division; instead, every team in the conference will play each opponent twice.
The Panthers were scheduled to play Wednesday, Sept. 7, at home against Annapolis Area Christian, and then were to face Laurel High the next day at Fairland Regional Park.