Reality didn't exactly bite Tempe Corona del Sol in the bud during last year's 5A Division I state tournament, it was more like 10 minutes.
The No. 1 seed Aztecs figuratively fell asleep against No. 16. Chandler, and the Wolves became the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 in Arizona boys soccer history with the upset on penalty kicks.
No one was afraid to bring it up during preseason practices.
"Them as growing adults had a lot handed to them, and it was one thing that was taken away from them. That life reality hit them hard," Aztecs coach Dan Salas said. "There's not a drill or exercise we're not doing at full pace because no one wants to be the weak link."
To that point, the Aztecs were nearly flawless for three months, and for these next three months, everyone except one starter returns to "right" what they admittedly "wronged," and with reinforcements.
All-state forward and Central Region Player of the Year Trever Allen returns with more patience Salas called "a scary thing for someone with his talent who already goes 120 percent all the time." It's Allen's last go-round before going to Arizona State to play baseball.
Midfielder Austin Haas has successfully rehabbed a torn ACL he suffered last September, and the Aztecs missed his communication and swagger. Defender Nate Flood is back on the team after playing exclusively club soccer the past couple seasons.
"They seem to have found the balance," Salas said. "It gave them a chance to come back to the family."
The usual cast of contenders has other plans for the Aztecs' desire for vengeance.
Salas called Phoenix Brophy "a soccer factory," so even though the Broncos were stopped in the semifinals last season by eventual champion Gilbert Highland, they'll be deep (if injuries don't beset them like last season), alive and kicking at the end under Marc Kelly.
Higland has a new coach in David Belfort and lost a slew of senior talent from last year's title team, but the Hawks return a core group and the soccer community knows better than to count out the Hawks for anything. T.J. Hagen believes his Mesa team could be the school's best, especially defensively and Chandler Hamilton's talent is second to none in 5A-I.
At least three Desert Valley Region squads (Scottsdale Chaparral, Scottsdale Horizon, Scottsdale Desert Mountain) and Chandler Valley Christian should vie for the 5A-II and 1A/2A/3A titles, respectively.
The favorites don't change much to start this season, but it's not as if any of the top five teams thought it could go unnoticed.
"I don't mind being a top dog," Salas said. "It's an honor, but that's for the boys to ultimately decide for themselves."
TEAMS TO WATCH
Corona del Sol: Everyone (and then some) are back from last year's stunning first-round exit. Sometimes being humbled can eventually turn into a boon.
Brophy: Lost school's all-time leading scorer Nick Ayers to graduation (86 goals) but Brian Hines, excellent defense and goalkeeping return for 2008 champs.
Mesa: Reached 5A-I semifinals last year and have inexperience in net, but sweeper Jaime Lara could have company on All-state team by season's end. Can midfielders stay healthy and forwards score to help excellent defense?
Hamilton: Seven all-region players are back from last year, but Brophy and Mesa share the new region.
Highland: Coaching change and graduations will make repeating difficult, but the Hawks won't fall far at all under David Belfort.
Desert Mountain: Returns seven regulars from last year's 5A-II quarterfinals squad.
Chaparral: Boys soccer will be the second of two "futbol" sports Chaparral and Desert Mountain battle it out in 5A-II this fall.
Valley Christian: Returns 10 regulars from last season's which lost an overtime thriller to Wellton Antelope in the 1A/2A/3A state championship.
5 PLAYERS TO WATCH
Trever Allen, Corona del Sol, Sr., F, All-State and Central Region player of the year in '08 could be better without playing club soccer; headed to ASU for baseball next year.
Jaime Lara, Mesa, Sr., D, All-state sweeper last year and three-year starter for the Jackrabbits is leader of top defensive team in state.
Brian Hines, Brophy, Sr., F, Leading candidate to help fill offensive void left by school's all-time leading scorer Nick Ayers, Hines has 53 goals in his three years.
Ari Sanchez, Highland, Jr., Showed flashes of ability as a frequent contributor last season and should ascend as a starter on young Hawks squad.
Kerel Bradford, Hamilton, Sr. F, All-region a top threat in new Fiesta who's headed to Indiana next year.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH
Placido Amaya, Westwood, Jr., D; Ben Anderson, Brophy, Sr., MF; Ricky Astrian, McClintock, Sr., MF; John Barton, McClintock, Sr., GK; Ian Berger, Arcadia, Sr., MF; Matt Bersano, Corona del Sol, Jr., GK; Kevin Biniazen, Corona del Sol, Sr., D; Frank Brzeczek, Mesa, Sr., Cesar Buelna, Westwood, Sr., GK; D; Jose Cedillo, McClintock, Sr., MF; Tyler Conklin, Desert Mountain, Sr., F; Bryan Durrant, Basha, Sr., GK; Brandon Hanson, Mountain Pointe, Sr., F; Aaron Harmon, Red Mountain, Sr., MF; Ryen Helzer, Chandler, Sr., GK; Robi Hullner, Arcadia, Jr., D; Kyle Jarvis, Highland, Jr., MF; Darrin Kerr, Highland, Sr., D; Matt Matiski, Chapparal, So., MF; J.J. Meier, Gilbert, Sr., GK; Chris Murray, Corona del Sol, Sr., D; Harry Norem, Arcadia, Sr., MF; Sergio Perez, Tempe, Sr., F; Patrick Poblete, Brophy, Sr., GK; Adrian Portillo, Westwood, Sr., MF; Aaron Rivera, Mesa, Jr., D; Derek Rusher, Corona del Sol, Sr., MF; Graham Smith, Brophy, Sr., D; Joey Speshock, St. Mary's, So., GK; Michael Speshock, St. Mary's, Sr., F; Josh von Allworden, Corona del Sol, Sr., D.
DID YOU KNOW?
Defending 5A-I champion Highland hired Mesa Community College assistant and Olympic Development Program coach David Belfort to replace Tim Barmettler, who coached the Hawks to two state titles the past three years but wanted to spend more time with family. Last year's runner-up Red Mountain promoted Lions assistant Rodney Cole to be longtime coach Jim Thames' predecessor at the school.
Brophy will again take on the "Goals for Sierra Leone" project, which last year raised over $5,000 for amputee soccer players in war-torn Sierra Leone. Broncos coach Marc Kelly said the goal this year is to surpass last year's totals, and ultimately reach $7,500.
Former state champion, MLS and Olympic standout Greg Vanney returns to his alma mater, Tempe Marcos de Niza, as the school's new coach. His brother and new East Valley Region foe is Gilbert Perry coach Jim Vanney.
Tempe's Sergio Perez is back from a fractured skull and with several key compliments healthy this season, the Knights aim for a sixth consecutive tournament appearance in 4A-II.
Dec. 7-11: Tempe Diablos Tournament
Dec. 18-22: Mesa Jackrabbit Invitational
Dec. 28-Jan 2: Mustang Invitational
Feb. 2: State tournaments begin
Feb. 12: 4A-II state championship
Feb. 13: 5A-I/5A-II/4A-I/1A-2A-3A state championships