Struggling in the early season can happen even to the best of teams.
Four-time defending girls soccer champion Tucson Catalina Foothills experienced that in 2013-14.
“We struggled to find our form,’’ said coach Charlie Kendrick.
Once the team found what it was looking for, it was lights out.
The Falcons went on to win 19 of its 22 regular-season games. Their only loss was to Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep in the Horizon Tournament in December.
Now, Catalina Foothills is the top seed in the Division II state tournament that begins on Feb. 5, with Buckeye Verrado No. 2 and Notre Dame No. 3.
“We started to attack, find each other with the ball, jelled overall,’’ Kendrick said.
Catalina Foothills, which opens the tournament against No. 16 Peoria Sunrise Mountain.
First-round winners will advance to the quarterfinals on Feb. 8, with semifinals at Phoenix Paradise Valley on Feb. 13 and finals at Gilbert Campo Verde on Feb. 15.
Kendrick says this year’s team could be the best he’s had in recent years, especially in terms of team speed.
“We’re not quite as strong defensively, but speed can help make up for it,’’ he said.
While he has confidence in his team’s chances to earn another title trophy, he is quick to acknowledge that it won’t be easy, particularly with teams like Notre Dame in the field.
“So many teams are capable,’’ he said. “The tournament is loaded.’’
He said a large part of his program’s success “is gaining the confidence that you are capable of beating anybody and trying to get better every step of the way on the field.’’
Kendrick has three prominent goal-scorers – Amanda Settles (27 goals), Aleah Strength (23) and Emily Parker (16).
Versatility is a key ingredient for Parker, a junior who is all over the field.
“She has been very consistent. She draws so much attention. She is dangerous,’’ Kendrick said.
Verrado and No. 13 seed Campo Verde have moved up from Division III. Verrado fell to Campo Verde in last year’s semifinals before Campo Verde went on to win it all.
Ten of Verrado’s victories have come by shutout. Junior Shea Smith has been nearly flawless. The Vipers will meet No. 15 Prescott in the opening round.
Notre Dame defeated and tied Division I contender Anthem Boulder Creek in the Horizon Tournament, and defeated Catalina Foothills.
That helped first-year coach Timothy White’s team gained confidence, and the Saints have maintained consistency all along the way. Notre Dame, which meets Glendale Independence in the first round, is led by a pair of 12-goal scorers, freshman Taylor Culver and senior Rachel Jones.
No. 4 Tucson Ironwood Ridge will test Campo Verde in the opener. Ironwood Ridge has four losses – two to Catalina Foothills, one to a California team and one to Division I Gilbert Highland.
No. 5 Tucson Sahuaro will meet No. 12 Phoenix Arcadia, and always tough Flagstaff comes in at No. 6 and will take on No. 11 Phoenix Sunnyslope at Cottonwood Mingus. No. 9 Gilbert Higley will travel to face No. 8 Cave Creek Cactus Shadows. That game will be at Boulder Creek in Anthem. No. 10 Yuma Kofa faces No. 7 Tucson Sabino at Catalina Foothills.
(Teams and fans can now download the state soccer tournament programs for free. Photos and rosters of each team and stories previewing each soccer state tournament will be in the programs. The programs will be available to view this week here: http://www.aia365.com/programs.)