With a strong nucleus of returning players, Miller is optimistic. He doesn't want to predict a win total but believes the Crusaders can go deep into the section playoffs and perhaps even make it to state.
"It's a good group of players," he said. "The older kids help out the younger kids, and we try to foster that by having everybody practice together. In the long run that will benefit the program."
EAST GIRLS: Coach Akram Osman doesn't want to use the word rebuilding when talking about his team, but there's no doubt they've graduated a lot of top players, including longtime keeper Kelsey Ekstedt and high-scoring forwards Marta Anderson and Hannah Whittington.
With 36 players in camp, Osman expects to field both a varsity and junior varsity team. Leading the way among the returning players are senior defender Emily Stangel, junior midfielder Lizzy Vetter, junior midfielder Rebekah Kolstad, junior defenders Sydney Halbur and senior defender Caitlin Clause.
"We're going to have to find a way to create some scoring punch," Osman said. "Eighth-grader Jenny Vetter and sophomore Taylor Kuechle should be able to help us in that area."
The Cougars finished third in the Big Nine Conference last season, just one point behind runner-up Rochester Century. Preseason favorite Owatonna is the defending champion, and Osman says East is gunning for another Top 3 finish.
East (14-4 last season) lost to eventual state tournament entrant St. Peter 1-0 in the section semifinals. The coach said the key is finding a way to win those close games when they count the most.
The Cougars start the season Thursday at New Prague.
WEST BOYS: The Scarlets reached the semifinals of Section 2A in 2012 and seem poised to make another run at a state tournament berth.
Gone are All-Big Nine and honorable mention All-State player Bill Letich, All-Big Nine player Nick Herwig and all-city player Kyle Sandman. The good news is, West has a wealth of returnees as coach Leonard Woelfel has 86 players in camp in grades 8-12.