FAIRMONT - The Fairmont Area Cardinal boys soccer team captured its third consecutive South Central Conference championship en route to the program's single-season record of 16-2 a year ago.
So, what does Fairmont Area plan to do for an encore in 2012 beside shooting for a rare fourpeat in the conference?
"I'd say that we (players and coaches) are all on the same page of having the dream of going to state," said seventh-year Cardinal mentor Jeff Kot, whose team kicks off the season against Rochester John Marshall at 1 p.m. Saturday at Kot Soccer Complex in Fairmont. "One of our goals this season is to actually host the section championship game. Getting to the finals is the next step after losing in the semifinals during the last two years."
NET FINDERS — Members of the Fairmont Area Cardinal boys soccer team opening the season by playing host to Rochester John Marshall at 1 p.m. Saturday at Kot Soccer Complex in Fairmont include, front row (l-r): Brock Johnson, Carter Welchlin, Sam Havnen, Marvin the mascot, Joe Nordquist and Peter Nielsen. Middle row: Lucas Miles, Zac Ehlert, Ben Mitchell, Oscar Svenfelz, Trason Arens, Brandon Jensen and C-squad coach Nate Washa. Back row: Junior varsity coach Brady Meyer, Dan Simmering, Evan Ward, Joe Washa, Matt Tennyson, Robert Hamp, Grant Becker, Derek Hunwardsen and head coach Jeff Kot. Not pictured: Gregg Nicoson. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
Kot's soccer crew outscored SCC opponents by a staggering 26-4 margin to coast to a perfect 6-0 league record en route to a 15-1 overall mark to earn the Section 2A postseason tournament's No. 1 seed.
The Cardinals edged Mankato Loyola, 1-0 in overtime, during the sectional quarterfinals before falling to Willmar in the semifinals, 5-0.
"We redeemed our loss to Willmar by beating them in this summer's state semifinals, but they will still be one of the tougher teams in our section this fall," said Kot.
"If we want to make it to state this year, the road still goes through Mankato," Kot said in reference to 2011 and 2009 Section 2A champion Mankato West and 2010 sectional winner Mankato East.
"After looking at our losses over the last two years, there are two points of recognition - how to defend a lead and how to win when we don't score first," Kot continued.
Senior co-captain Matt Tennyson, who recorded an incredible 207 saves in 2011, returns between the pipes for a third varsity campaign after producing seven shutouts a year ago.
The all-SCC goalkeeper will anchor a defense that returns hard-working senior co-captain Joe Washa, senior Brandon Jensen and senior Dan Simmering.
Washa, who distributed six assists last season, will play sweeper - the last man in the defensive backline before the keeper - while Jensen will serve as the Cardinals' rotating stopper.
Kot also will look to senior newcomer Robert Hamp on defense, in addition to sophomore Evan Ward, while junior Trason Arens will back up Tennyson in defending the goal.
While Tennyson proved one of the best keepers in the section, senior co-captain Grant Becker earned a reputation as one of southern Minnesota's potent scorers in 2011.
The all-state honorable mention midfielder and all-SCC choice topped the high-octane Cardinal offense in both goals (17) and assists (21) a year ago, and will look to continue to climb the program's all-time scoring charts again this fall.
But Becker will not be alone on the offensive end as senior co-captain Lucas Miles brings 13 goals and 10 assists back to the field after meriting all-SCC honors as a junior.
The nifty-footed Miles will be joined by junior striker Brock Johnson, junior Oscar Svenfelz - a foreign exchange student from Sweden, Ward, sophomore Joe Nordquist and sophomore Derek Hunwardsen at the forward positions.
Senior Carter Welchlin, who Kot described as his utility player, will likely start at a mid-wing spot, and will be joined by junior Zac Ehlert, sophomore Sam Havnen, junior Ben Mitchell, sophomore Peter Nielsen and junior Gregg Nicoson as mid-fielders.
"Our record from last year will be tough to match, but more importantly, we want to be ready for section play," said Kot. "We just need to try to shut down the good teams in close games and take advantage when opportunities present themselves."