The Free State High and Lawrence High boys soccer programs enter the 2008 season in similar, yet different, situations.
Both are in the middle of rebuilding, the Firebirds with players and the Lions with a coach, and both are unsure how high to raise expectations for the fall season.
At Free State, Jason Pendleton faces the task of replacing nearly 75 percent of his starting lineup from 2007. Gone are a pair of all-staters, the entire back line of defense, two double-digit goal scorers and the team's starting goalkeeper.
Replacing that much firepower will not be easy. But Pendleton said it's the experience and maturity - not necessarily the talent - that he's most worried about replacing.
"We feel that we will be able to field a competitive squad that will improve as we progress through the year," Pendleton said. "Our first 11 is pretty good, but we have a lot of kids who are unproven right now. We are looking forward to seeing who steps up and emerges for us off the bench."
Free State's known commodities come in the form of returning senior starters Parker Liebl, Dale Shillington and junior Daniel Chance.
Liebl is a three-year varsity contributor who can start at any position on the field. Shillington returns in the midfield, and Chance, who has started since his freshman season, also can play anywhere on the field.
Senior Brock Norwood adds leadership and experience.
In addition to that group of veterans, Pendleton figures to start three sophomores: Diego Gonzales and brothers Tony and Will Libeer. Gonzales saw significant minutes in '07 as a freshman.
In goal, Pendleton said juniors Jackson McClure and Ethan Morton-Gaught were in a tight battle for the starting job.
Free State opens the season Tuesday at Spring Hill.
Across town, the Lawrence High boys will begin the year playing for their third coach in the past two seasons. But the change is not a complete departure from what LHS soccer already knows. Matt Anderson, the leader of the LHS girls program, takes over and hopes to bring discipline, structure and, most of all, continuity to the team.
"I think the guys enjoy the fact that I've already shown longevity with the girls," Anderson said. "Hopefully I'll bring a sense of stability to this team."
The strength of the LHS roster will come in the midfield, where seniors Nathan Wycoff, Spencer Scott, Brent Wilson, Jake Pfannenstiel and junior Will Burg will patrol the middle. Senior Vienney Phiomavong and juniors Tor Fornelli, Henry Chapman and Tim Thompson will play outside.
Anderson said the strength in the midfield bodes well for his attacking style of play.
Up front the Lions are experienced with seniors Dar Fornelli, Louis Hamel and Eddie Okene holding down the striker spots.
Defensively, the team also features depth and experience.
Senior Bobby Davis and juniors Derek Rousch, Ryan Marienau and Matthias Reiber give Anderson reason to believe his back line will be strong.
"Due to the fact that they are all upperclassmen, I am very confident that this group will be able to adapt and should be very, very solid by mid-season," Anderson said.
Senior goalkeepers Sean Simmons and Sam Wessels are competing for the starting nod in net, and Anderson said both have had outstanding preseasons.
Overall, Anderson sees 2008 as a building year for a bright future.
"We're going to set the bar high," he said.
LHS opens its season at 7 tonight at home against Manhattan High.