Centennial girls' soccer, after taking third at state last year, is backing up high expectations with a good start to the season.
The seniors on the Centennial girls' soccer team have come of age during the program's first golden era.
Since a pedestrian 8-6-4 record in 2008, the program has achieved some notable firsts: two state tournament appearances, a Top 10 ranking and an undefeated regular season.
Another fall, another first. Coaches voted Centennial No. 1 in last week's Class 2A poll.
As a sign of just how much Centennial has grown, senior center back Kortney Kenville said her team is measuring success by looking within rather than at rankings, records or scores.
"Every game is important but even when we win, we ask ourselves, 'Was that our best game? Were we playing to the level we know we can compete at?'" Kenville said. "A lot of times we say, 'We can play better,' because we know how we need to play to get us to the Dome again."
Centennial ended last season at the Metrodome as winners of the state tournament third-place game. A semifinal loss to Burnsville knocked the Cougars from title contention. As payback, Centennial opened this season with a 3-0 victory at Burnsville.
The Cougars allowed just one goal in their next three victories before settling for a 3-3 tie against Maple Grove -- a game played just hours after the rankings were released. Players were unaware until the next morning when the news spread through word of mouth and social media.
For senior attacker Jenna Roering, one of the key factors in Centennial's rise to prominence the past three seasons, reaching No. 1 cut both ways.
"It's nice but it puts that much more pressure on us," said Roering, who committed to play soccer at Santa Clara University. "For some people, that makes it harder. For some people, that makes them play that much better."
In which camp does the ultra-competitive Roering reside?
"Play better," she said with a smile.
Improvement dominated players' thoughts at practice after the Maple Grove stalemate, a game that likely figured in the Cougars dropping to No. 2 in this week's rankings. Their 16 shots in the first half yielded just one goal, so players sharpened their touches and shots. Maple Grove scored twice on corner kicks, so the Cougars tinkered their set pieces. All in a day's work for a team yearning to fulfill its potential.
"We came into this year saying, 'This could be a really good year for us,'" junior center midfielder Madison Butina said. "We're expecting a lot and practicing harder."
Like the rankings, players know not everything can be gleaned through numbers.
"We beat Osseo 7-0 and after the game we didn't even think we had played well," Roering said. "We want to show how well we can move the ball and finish every opportunity."
In eighth grade, Roering said, the focus was making the program competitive -- the younger players coming in face a new challenge, going from good to great.
"We know not everyone can be perfect but we expect perfection because we have high expectations," Roering said.
"The girls want to live up to it because they want to be part of a team that's been winning conference and section championships."
And this fall the team's goal is the ultimate first -- a state championship.
David La Vaque • 612-673-7574