Last season ended in heartbreak for the Park City High School boys' soccer team. After advancing all the way to the 3A state title game, the Miners squared off against archrival Wasatch, a team they'd lost to twice during the regular season.
Unfortunately for Park City, the third time was not the charm, and the Miners were sent home with the state runner-up trophy after a 1-0 loss.
But as the snow begins to melt and the weather gradually gets warmer, the returning Miners are ready to get back to business and bring home a title trophy in 2014.
"We definitely have a big, core group of last year's state team that returned," Park City coach Jesse Blais said. "They've all been high-quality club players and have a lot of experience over the summer and fall. They've matured a lot."
So, even though Park City will have to replace key contributors like Garrett Bullough, Casey Sederman, Jesus Valeriano and Alejandro Vieyra, Blais said there's reason to be optimistic with this year's squad.
"We'll miss mainly just some ball-handling skills and a little bit of creativity they were all very creative guys and good at what they did," Blais said. "And of course Casey was an amazing goalie. But we have Charlie Urban and Connor Dawson they're kind of both fighting for the starting spot. They're both very consistent. They bring different aspects to the position. They're not as well-rounded as Casey was, but they should help us out tremendously."
Returning to help out the new goalkeeper will be a strong back line.
"My two outside backs are returning starters and having three returning starters [on defense] is amazing," Blais said. "I couldn't ask for more than that."
Offensively, Park City will be in good hands as well, with junior Gunnar Stray-Gundersen returning to lead the goal-scoring attack. Blais said he loves what he's seen from the forward already this season.
"Everything he was good at last year, he's really good at this year," he said. "He's scoring, he's more patient, he's amazing in the air heading the ball, he's a great point man.
Joining Stray-Gundersen as a goal-scoring threat will be senior Garrett Magie, who missed a sizable portion of last season after breaking his leg in a game against Wasatch.
Blais said the center midfielder looks strong in early-season action.
"He's an amazing player," he said. "He works so hard and is a leader on the team. He's one of my fastest competitors hopefully he'll provide a lot of goal-scoring opportunities."
He added that Magie's leg is close to being fully healed.
"It still bugs him here and there, but he is just a tremendous competitor and I think he'll be 100 percent within the next couple weeks, for sure," Blais said. "He already plays like he's 100 percent it's just, as a coach, I notice some things here and there."
With all that returning firepower, Blais is confident that this year's squad can bring home the 3A title trophy. Making that job slightly easier is the fact that three of Park City's biggest competitors are now playing at the 4A level.
"With the realignment, Wasatch, Judge [Memorial] and Ogden are no longer in 3A," Blais said. "3A is weaker with the loss of those three, especially our region. It'll be different."
In order to make up for a diluted 3A schedule, Blais said the Miners would be challenging themselves in the preseason.
"We still have Wasatch and Ogden on our preseason schedule," he said. "And we also have 5A Weber. Those three teams alone, and then we go down to St. George this weekend we'll have six great games."
After defeating 2A Rowland Hall 6-0 on the road in the season opener on Wednesday, the Miners will host their first game on March 11, when 5A Weber comes to Park City. The game will begin at 3:30 p.m. on Dozier Field.