Picking up the pace was a major priority in 2012.
While improvements were made, Marshalltown boys soccer coach Creighton Jenness opens his second season at the helm with tempo still at the top of his to-do list.
"It went fairly well last year, but we still need to move the ball a lot faster," Jenness said of his team adapting to a quicker style of play both on and off the ball.
"These guys are starting to get a little better inclination of how to get the ball moving. They're not just standing and letting the game come to them, but actually dictating the pace of the game."
Marshalltown, which improved from 10-8 in 2011 to 13-9 in Jenness' debut, looks to make another jump this year after finishing fourth in the Central Iowa Metropolitan Iowa Conference with a 2-3 mark. With nine starters back and a savvy second year coach in charge, the Bobcats have the elements in place to continue their rise.
Jenness, a former Bobcat goalkeeper with experience playing both at the collegiate level (Marshalltown Community College, Saint Francis) and in the Premier Development League (Des Moines Menace, Springfield Storm), has seen the advantages of playing at a more rapid rate - including MCC's run to the national tournament last fall.
2013 Marshalltown Boys Soccer Schedule
April 4, at Indianola, 7:30 p.m.
April 9, at DM Hoover, 7:45 p.m.
April 11, at DM Roosevelt, 4:45 p.m.
April 13, at Hudson Tournament
April 16, DM EAST, 7:45 p.m.
April 18, NEWTON, 7:30 p.m.
April 23, SOUTH TAMA, 7:30 p.m.
April 25, FORT DODGE, 7 p.m.
April 30, SE POLK, 7:30 p.m.
May 3, at Ames, 7:30 p.m.
May 4, at Nevada Tournament
May 6, at Aplington-P'burg, 5:30 p.m.
May 7, at Urbandale, 7:30 p.m.
May 9, MASON CITY, 4:45 p.m.
May 14, at WDM Valley, 7:30 p.m.
"Getting the ball and being able to change the field is a huge thing no matter what the level," said last year's Conference Coach of the Year, who also is an assistant at MCC. "We worked on that a lot at MCC this year, which was a huge part of our success. I'm hoping we can switch the point of attack and really open up the other team's defense."
The Bobcats have several viable weapons to make that happen.
Tying for sixth in Class 3A with 21 goals last year, Martin Chavarria leads a talented junior class that enters its third year with Jenness after playing under his direction as the freshman team coach two years ago.
Chavarria's scoring prowess may have caught opponents off-guard early last season, but eventually the junior became a target of every defense. This year Jenness believes foes won't have that same luxury with MHS boasting a more balanced attack.
"We'll have a little bit more firepower which is good for (Chavarria)," Jenness said of the all-CIML second-team selection. "He scored a lot of goals in the beginning and then some teams started to pick up on him. This year should be different."
Newcomer David Gomez already has an established rapport with Chavarria and several other Bobcats after playing on the same club team, while seniors Mi Reh and Alfonso Gonzalez will also stretch the defense.
Reh, who spent more time in the midfield last year, should provide a instant boost to the Bobcats' attack up front after tallying three goals and four assists last year.
"He's a tricky little player and he'll be able to move the ball fast and get great passes in," Jenness said.
MHS also brings back plenty of talent at the defensive end.
Junior goalkeeper Kreighton Miller enters his third season on varsity and will split time with senior Eli Devine. Juniors Eric Ayala and Agustin Ortiz bring back experience on the back line, while Tony Ordaz (5 goals, 8 assists) is another proven player in Marshalltown's arsenal.
With chemistry, talent and an experienced opening day roster that features 16 upperclassmen, the main speed bump approaching the Bobcats is suspensions. Due to academic ineligibility and some off-the-field issues, Marshalltown will not play at full strength until the second half of the season.
While playing a few men down will test his squad early, Jenness believes his team's strength in numbers and versatility will help offset the issue.
"That will be a challenge, but the depth of our squad has also grown quite a bit," said Jenness, whose squad opens the season today against Indianola on the road.
"This is a team game and we have to play with anyone and everyone."
While the Bobcats will need other players to step in early, Jenness hopes to have his entire squad intact for the final stretch run. Marshalltown's demanding May slate includes road games against Class 3A stalwarts Ames and Valley, which placed fourth and third at the state tournament year, along with a trip to the Nevada Tournament hosted by the Class 1A runner-up Cubs.
Those late-season matchups will provide a telling tale on where the Bobcats stand in their ultimate pursuit - getting to the state tournament. While the pending substate pairings will ultimately determine the route to Des Moines, the Bobcats' final destination in mind remains the same.
"Going to state is the goal for every one of these guys and the coaching staff," said Jenness. "It's something that would be attainable this year. We'll have to see how the substate pairings come out."