It would seem just about impossible to duplicate last year’s success.
The Aurora boys soccer team reached the 2017 Division II state semifinals and won its first-ever Suburban League American Conference championship.
But much of that team is no more.
The Greenmen lost 12 seniors, including 10 starters. Surely, this has to be a rebuilding year for Aurora, right?
Not at all, says Greenmen third-year head coach Jason Bibza (28-8-5).
"I expect us to have another strong season," he said.
Aurora finished 14-4-4 and reached the Final Four for the first time since 2012. The Greenmen also finished 5-0-1 in the Suburban League American Conference.
Aurora’s 2017 season ended with a 2-1 loss to eventual state runner-up Bay Village Bay. The Greenmen settled for a 3-3 draw against Bay in a recent scrimmage.
"We went toe to toe with them," Bibza said. "We also beat Stow 2-1 and [Lyndhurst] Brush 3-1.
"They’re doing a great job. The camaraderie is strong and there are some talented players. I’m excited about them."
Of course, there may be some moments during the season when Aurora faces a few harsh reality checks.
Remember this is a team that lost plenty of talent.
Starters who graduated in the spring are All-Ohio midfielder Rees Jones, defenders Cooper Devins, Avery McMaster, Andrew Sobodosh and Alec Besinger, twin strikers Dan French and Michael French, Cade Huffman (striker), Nate Malinowsky (midfielder) and Robby Albrecht (goalie).
A familiar face is expected to pick up the scoring slack in 2018. Ironically, this same individual was a defender last year.
Senior Cooper Bizjak will switch from offense to defense this fall. The early returns look promising. The versatile striker scored five goals in his first three scrimmages.
"Cooper has made incredible strides," Bibza said. "He played for the Ambassadors club team [in Twinsburg]. He improved his touch and his speed of play. He’s very strong with the ball."
Also expected to fill up the net is senior striker Trevor Lazor, who got some playing time last season.
"Trevor has good speed and a good shot," Bibza said.
Senior outside midfielders Sean O’Malley and Solomon Bibza, the coach’s son, plan to get their share of assists.
"Sean and Solomon are dangerous threats," the coach said. "Both of them have a lot of speed and tenacity."
Bibza’s other son, junior three-year letter winner Alex Bibza, is expected to be the team’s starting center midfielder.
"Alex has a lot of energy and a lot of pace," the coach said.
Also expected to see time at center midfielder are junior Hugo Krondorfer, sophomore Ben Wilson and freshman Bryson Pozniak.
"Hugo and Ben are defensive-minded midfielders," Bibza said. "Bryson is very effective at winning the ball back. He can sneak up on you."
The defense will be anchored by seniors Nick Kocar and Kyle Ruehr and junior Sam Schreck.
"All of them are very solid in the back," Bibza said.
Senior Jacob French is expected to be the team’s starting goalkeeper.
Other seniors include defenders Rakin Rahman, Ethan Donley and Will Baldwin.
The rest of the varsity squad features senior outside midfielders Ryan Fritinger and Jonny Franco, junior Ben Gavie (center midfielder and outside midfielder), sophomores Mason Bizjak (outside midfielder and striker), Ethan Hoff (goalie) and Hayden Hall (defender) and freshman Zach Geier (wing).
"Zach is very impressive," Bibza said. "He has really good speed."
Bibza’s varsity assistant is Matt Burgess. The junior varsity team will be led by Christian Adamo. Zachary Curtis and Frank Teriaca will serve as volunteer coaches.
Last year, the Greenmen utilized a 4-3-3 formation for much of the season. They will still use the 4-3-3 lineup, but not always.
"We went 3-5-2 in one of the scrimmages," Bibza said. "It depends on the matchups. We’re going to try to score early and put some pressure on.
"If you score first, it’s a psychological advantage. Momentum becomes a factor. If we score early, we’re going to make it difficult for our opponents to score."
Aurora hopes to defend its conference title. It certainly won’t be easy.
"Copley is strong and Kent [Roosevelt] is very talented," Bibza said. "Revere is very strong and I never count out Highland."
The Greenmen are scheduled to make their 2018 debut at Geneva Aug. 18. Play is set to begin at 7 p.m.
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.