The Bruins were the runners-up in Region 7-4A last year, but a disappointing 2-0 loss to Southeast in the Class 4A state semifinals cut short the best season in program history.
Northwest coach Ryan Scoggins now believes — after two straight state tournament appearances — that making it to state and winning there is an expectation.
“I don’t think you do lower your expectations,” said Scoggins, whose Bruins finished 16-6 last year. “You can be reasonable about it. ... With each year, you set the bar higher for your program.
“Dalton and Southeast have been making deep runs for years. Last year, we finally got into the conversation.”
The team returns three seniors, all on defense. Miguel Villa, sweeper, is joined by stopper Kevin Centeno and left back David Franco.
“To have your strength in the back line makes you feel a little better,” Scoggins said. “I definitely trust those guys.”
Like Dalton’s boys, Northwest graduated 10 seniors, including David and Christian Perez, both of whom were all-area selections.
Several juniors will step into bigger roles. Bryan Villa returns at center midfield. Brandon Jimenez was a backup right midfielder last year and will now be the starter. David Paz becomes the team’s main striker, while Jose Marquez replaces Miguel Deanda at goalie.
Last season, the Lady Bruins advanced to state for the first time — but they’ll try to make their next trip under a coach who is both new and familiar to the program.
Melissa Torbett takes over from Anna Stutts, who led the Lady Bruins to an 11-4 mark in 2013, which ended with a 4-0 loss to Grady in the opening round of state after they finished second in Sub-region 7B-4A and third in Region 7-4A. Torbett previously led the program in its first five seasons, from 2003-07, and she’ll be assisted by Kim Smyth, who assisted her in 2006 and 2007.
Senior Juliana Gomez returns at striker after earning all-area honors a year ago. Sophomore midfielder Nancy Paz is another key returning starter, while Judeth Tapia and Yamileks Vaca, both seniors, add experience to the back line. Gracie Holmes, another senior, returns at goalkeeper after tallying eight shutouts a year ago.
“We have to win region,” Torbett said. “There are no bones about it. We hope to win the region. We don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t with the talent and experience they have playing together.”
Northwest’s girls open their season at 5 p.m. Monday at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe, while the boys kick off their schedule at 7 p.m. Thursday against visiting Rome.