It’s been nine months since Jesuit’s thrilling overtime win over Arlington Sam Houston captured the program’s second UIL state championship.
Now that the celebration has subsided and the players are back on the practice field, the Rangers must face the daunting task of repeating.
They’ll try to conquer that challenge after losing nine starters to graduation, and wearing the proverbial target on their back that comes with being the best in Class 6A.
“It’s a good problem to have,” said longtime Jesuit head coach Charles DeLong.
That’s true, but Jesuit’s roster will be short on experience after last year’s senior-laden group garnered most of the playing time on a squad that finished with a 22-3-1 record and outscored its opponents by a combined 56-11. That includes the remarkable postseason run.
“We knew going in that our strength was defense and goalkeeping,” DeLong said. “That seemed to get better and better as we went along. They always backed that up with hard work. We were good enough to win, and we got a break or two here or there. We took advantage of our opportunities.”
Looking to 2018, the Rangers should benefit from the return of striker Christian Lerma, who led the team with 20 goals last season. Other top returnees include defenders Andrew Gilchrist and Israel Ollarzabal, midfielder Ryan Davis, and striker John Koshakji.
Joe Banul likely will replace All-American goalkeeper Luke Ostrander, who finished last season with 135 saves and a 0.57 goals-against average. Banul was impressive in a reserve role a year ago, with an 8-0 mark.
“All teams have some kind of new identity because you have new players,” said DeLong, who is beginning his 38th season at Jesuit. “We have to replace last year’s leadership. We’ll see if it comes together.”
The Rangers will be tested early in the season by a nondistrict schedule that includes the annual Jesuit-Meintser Classic tournament on Jan. 11-13, in which Jesuit will host Bishop Lynch, Belton, McKinney Boyd, Fort Worth Nolan, North Mesquite, Sachse, and Skyline.
The season opener will be Jan. 6 at Irving, while the first District 9-6A game will be Jan. 30 at Coppell.