College Park coach John Owens is entering this season with a unique situation. The Cavaliers made school history last spring by advancing to the UIL state tournament. And while that achievement is certainly one that will never be forgotten, he knows his program cannot afford to rest on its laurels.

College Park finished last year with a 22-4-5 overall record, took the No. 2 seed out of a challenging District 15-6A, and won five playoff matches to secure its spot in the Class 6A final four. The Cavaliers’ magical run ultimately came to an end with a loss to San Antonio LEE in the state semifinals.

Now Owens is tasked with keeping his returning players focused on the goals for the new season.

“You can’t buy experience like that,” Owens said. “When you take a look at it, you want to find that nice, good balance of appreciating what we did last year and understanding the experience and gaining from how valuable that is, and you want to balance that with not always looking over your shoulder about last year.”

Owens said he leaned on the advice of other coaches who annually take their teams to state competition, including College Park boys cross country coach Mike Gibson. The insight provided was helpful.

“If you change even one player, you change the dynamic of your team a little bit,” Owens said. “I think we still have that excitement about a new year and new opportunities, and it’s a new group.”

While the Cavaliers did lose some key players to graduation, they also have several returning. The offensive arsenal begins with senior forward Alex Hevener Arano, who scored the team’s lone goal during the 3-1 loss to LEE in the state semifinals. He was named to the state all-tournament team for his efforts.

Senior forward Jesse Botello and senior midfielder Mauricio Sanchez will also play a key roles on the attack. Defensively, the team will rely on seniors Bruno Carbone and Pedro Romero, who were both All-County picks last season for their formidable play on the back line. Gabriel Leon, another senior, also returns on defense.

“We do bring back a lot of players who have a lot of experience,” Owens said. “We’re going to lean on their experience, but we’re going to bring in a lot of new and younger players into the mix and see what we’ve got.”

Perhaps the biggest loss for College Park was goalkeeper Ben Dixon, who was selected as The Courier’s Player of the Year following a tremendous senior campaign. Senior Nathan Stephens, who was able to learn plenty from spending time with and watching Dixon, will be the starter in net for the Cavaliers this time around.

“Ben did a great job for us,” Owens said. “You cannot put into numbers all the things he contributed to our team. You can’t quantify it; it’s more than just data. Luckily for us, the guy that backed him up last year is here. He went through everything, experienced everything, and he was a part of the group and knows what it takes.”

Goals for College Park remain high this season. The Cavaliers are looking to get back into the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year, and that starts with navigating a gauntlet of a district. League opponents for the team include The Woodlands, Conroe, Oak Ridge and the five Klein ISD programs.

“It’s a good thing when you enter the playoffs, having gone through the crucible, but it’s tough,” Owens said. “Any team in our district is deserving of a playoff spot, and we’re not guaranteed anything. Our goals for this year are the same as they are every year — we’re going to fight to get in. We know that teams are going to be gunning for us. It’s definitely a crucible. It’s definitely a Group of Death.”

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