South Carroll coach Charles Fazenbaker scrolls down his roster and can't help but smile, at least a little.
The Cavaliers have struggled in recent years, but showed signs of coming into their own late last season with wins against county foes Liberty and North Carroll on back-to-back nights.
Fazenbaker has nine players back from 1992's varsity (2-8-1) and 10 others up from last year's junior-varsity squad that went 8-3-1. The fourth-year coach seems cautiously optimistic.
"Sure, we've improved, but so has everyone else in the county," Fazenbaker said.
"You'll get no predictions here; I'll wait until the end of the season. One thing for sure: You're going to see some of the best soccer come out of this county in a long time."
The Cavaliers' strong finish last season was largely due to the midseason insertions of Brian Peltier in goal and Adam Aulestia at midfield. Both will be in the starting lineup from the beginning this season.
"Brian's a big keeper with great quickness and big hands. He doesn't rattle, and is very coachable," said Fazenbaker.
"Adam came on right before that second Liberty game and did nothing but good things for us."
The Cavaliers have experience back at all positions, but appear strongest at midfield. Joining Aulestia is Scott Ensor, a first-team All-County selection last year as a sophomore. Also back are seniors Doug Zwifelburger and Mike Haight, who saw time at sweeper last season before being injured.
The Cavs have a number of midfielders up from junior varsity to spell the starters, including Ricky Fenner, Danny Hughes, Phil Walker and Brad Mattson. Fazenbaker also can use John Eaton on attack or at midfield. Jeremy Wingate is another prospect up front.
Fazenbaker said he likes the way the older players are meshing with the younger ones and the versatility the team has shown. Up front is a perfect example: The Cavaliers will rely on senior Tim Beck, who also played some midfield and sweeper last season, and sophomore Brandon Dorsey, who Fazenbaker said can make a solid contribution after scoring 15 goals for the JV last year.
"We've got some solid veterans and promising young guys coming off the successful junior-varsity program," Fazenbaker said.
"They're coming together very well and are a great bunch of kids to work with. A big plus is that a lot of them are year-round soccer players who work hard at it all the time."
The Cavaliers will have a little more speed at defense than in years past. Senior returnees Greg Blair, Jeff Lawson and Robby Ness are experienced and reliable wing fullbacks.
Junior Martin Oswiecimka is a newcomer at stopper. Darryl Darnum and Dan Peiffer will share time at sweeper.