MORAGA -- Despite a run of two titles in six seasons, the expectations for the Campolindo High boys soccer team weren't especially high entering the 2012-2013 season.
The Cougars knew their side would have plenty of talent, but due to the relative young age of many key players, 2013-2014 is when this team was supposed to arrive.
However, the Campolindo players did not get that memo.
Instead of waiting to burst back into the title-contender conversation this season, the Cougars reached the North Coast Section Division II finals last year, which has made this season one of high expectations.
"Last year was supposed to be our big rebuilding year, but we really came together as the season went along and a lot of young players played well for us," Campolindo coach Shane Carney said. "Although we got better last year as the season went along and completely exceeded expectations, the sting of finishing second in everything definitely carried into the offseason and into this season."
The Cougars finished second in the Diablo Foothill Athletic League, in the Winter Soccer Classic and in Division II after a 1-0 loss to Concord.
"It was hard for us to enjoy our unexpected success last year when we kept coming up just short," Carney said. "After losing the final last year, I made the kids stay at the medal ceremony to watch and applaud the Concord team as they received their medals. While it was mainly a sportsmanship move, it was also important for the kids to see how close we came with a young team and where we could be this year if we put in the same kind of effort with a strong returning foundation of players."
Campolindo has already started the season off by erasing one demon from last year. They won the Winter Soccer Classic, beating Bishop O'Dowd in the Silver Division finals. They are also the favorite to win the DFAL title, and opened the season ranked No. 2 in the Bay Area News Group's East Bay rankings.
"With our success last year and strong returning foundation, we expected to be one of the top teams in the area this year, which we wanted but also needed to get used to," Carney said. "Although we've been consistently good for the past few years, most of our runs of success come out of nowhere and aren't entirely expected."
Both in 2008 and in 2011, Campolindo was expected to be a good team, but was not favored to win the title when the season started. This year, they are in foreign territory by being the favorite, and will have a target on their back.
"Going into this year was different as we expected to be one of the best and we're now working to push to succeed and try to consistently be better than everyone," Carney said. "It brings on an entirely new pressure that this group of kids haven't really felt before. We're hoping to fight our way through the pressure and expectations to be the best team from start to finish."