Few, including longtime coach Bob Bauman, knew what to expect heading into this season.
Considering the wake left by the exodus of 15 seniors from the 2010-11 Tigers, the coach had more questions than answers.
"I was concerned about who would assume the leadership role because we lost a lot," Bauman said. "A lot of people thought this would be a rebuilding year."
Rebuild or reload?
Jesuit's players will attempt to reach the Class 3A state finals tonight when they host Plantation American Heritage in a state semifinal match. Considering the number of players lost from last year's squad, the Tigers' 20-3-1 season, including Tuesday's penalty-kick win over Immokalee, has already been a rousing success.
"I'd hoped they would play this well and jell this quickly, but I certainly didn't expect it," he said. "They've played well beyond expectations."
Bauman couldn't recall a season in his 25 years at Jesuit where there had been such turnover from one year to the next. The closest comparable squad was the 1998 team, which won state that season in the midst of Jesuit's three-year title run from 1997-1999, when the Tigers graduated 12.
"It was the unknown as to whether this group of 10 sophomores that I have this season would be able to mix in with the guys we already had," Bauman said. "And how they would handle the level of competition."
The Tigers defeated all local teams they played, losing only to Gulfport, Miss., and nationally ranked Montverde (No. 5 by ESPN) and Cape Coral Mariner (No. 50 by ESPN).
"I think we had to realize that it was going to be a grind," Brett Durrance said. "We had so much talent last year, but with who we've played (this season), we have to grind."
Another hallmark of this year's Tigers has been their remarkable scoring balance. Jesuit has eight players with five or more goals, led by senior striker Durrance's 20. He has scored in the Tigers' last two matches.
"And that's by design because it's much easier to shut a team down when they just have one player to worry about," Baumann said. "We give teams a lot to worry about, and it's a tribute to the good chemistry this team has."
Although Bauman had his doubts about this year's Tigers heading into the season, Durrance was far less pessimistic.
"I think we have enough talent to get to states," Durrance said.
Brandon Wright can be reached at [email protected]