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The Camp Hill boys soccer team may look a little unrecognizable to those outside of the Lions faithful.

OK ... a lot unrecognizable.

The three-time defending District 3 Class 1A champion Lions, who went 14-0 (20-3 overall) in the Mid-Penn Capital last season, are coming off a summer where all of its offense was lost to graduation. Players like All-Sentinel MVP Amias Colestock, Dylan Mayanja, Ben Brodie and keeper Noah Jack are all off to bigger things.

This leaves some tough — and huge — holes to fill for the Lions.

“The seniors last year, I could [talk about] every single one of them,” head coach Justin Sheaffer said. “We also lost our keeper from last year, Noah Jack, and just as a class they contributed for 92% of our goals last year. The creativity that the senior class had and the chemistry that they had is tough to replicate, and it’s tough to fill those shoes. I think we’re going to look different this year, and we’ve had some different guys step up to this point in terms of practices and leadership.”

The change, however, was never a surprise to Sheaffer or anyone else on the team. They knew in the back of their minds that the inevitable was coming, especially last year.

The Lions just had to be more creative and strategic coming August’s practices.

“It’s always tough, but after we’ve had senior classes of about 10 or 11 for the past four years. And when the seniors grow up and mature and contribute the way they have the past four years, it’s always tough looking down the lineup and ask, ‘Who’s going to step up this year?’” Sheaffer said. “We have a lot of young guys and a lot of guys who are eager to take their shot because they’ve been watching the guys ahead of them. Amias, Dylan, Ben — watching those guys play, and they’re good leaders and good role models.”

One player rolling over from last year’s squad and stepping into a leadership position is Parker Rice, one of the Lions’ key assets on defense.

He and the other seniors know what it’s going to take to keep up Camp Hill’s recent high standards.

“We lost all our offensive players that were very skilled and knowledgeable about the game,” Rice said. “It’s going to be up to our upperclassmen to fill those gaps. We might have to transition in how we play, but I think that they can do it and get the goals for us.”

“We’re coming to it with a different set of players, a different play style, and we’re returning a lot of defenders and a few midfielders,” senior defender Matt Gurgiolo said. “I think we’re going to have to look to play differently.”

The Capital Division in itself has always been a challenge without many easy games to breathe easy, according to Sheaffer. Every game counts, and if you don’t “show up to one, you could possibly lose the division.”

But that also means the grueling Capital is also a huge preparation for the postseason. It’s paid off in each of the last three years, where the Lions have won two state titles in three trips to the PIAA tournament.

Last season, the Lions’ quest for a third-straight PIAA Class 1A title was cut short by Faith Christian in the quarterfinals off an unlucky bounce in overtime. The emotions were low after that game — from the loss of the game and the loss of the senior class, no doubt — but now Sheaffer and his team are looking forward.

“We haven’t really talked about it. You don’t live in the past, and the past is the past,” Sheaffer said. “There’s only one team in each classification that gets to play the last game of the year, and we were fortunate for two years in a row for that to be us. Last year it wasn’t us, and that’s OK, that’s why you play the game. We haven’t talked about it, and I don’t think we will talk about it. We’ll remind them that we didn’t win the last game of the year and hopefully use that as motivation.”

“The seniors kind of left with that, so we have to form our own path with the preseason, postseason and full season in general,” Rice said.

The silver lining for Sheaffer, however, is the depth of the team and ability to absorb what they learn in practice. He admits that everything in practice is now done differently, but it’s molded around what this year’s team needs.

He’s not overly nervous of what this season could bring, and neither are any of his players.

“I see a lot of potential,” Sheaffer said. “We’re not going to be able to rely on four or five upperclassmen to carry the team and generate every chance. We’re going to have to be creative, rely on our teammates and trust our teammates.

“We’ve got to improve every day, we’ve got to train a little bit differently, we’ve got to work harder at times, and we’ve got to understand our responsibilities a little bit more. It’s going to be different this year, but we’re excited about it.”

Camp Hill opens the 2019 campaign Saturday with a 10 a.m. start in the first game of Big Spring’s Bulldog Tournament.

The Mid-Penn boys soccer season kicks off this weekend. Get up to speed on who's back on each of the Sentinel-area teams with our preseason team capsules.

The Mid-Penn girls soccer season kicks off this weekend. Get up to speed on who's back on each of the Sentinel-area teams with our preseason team capsules.

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Email Mallory at mmerda@cumberlink.com or follow her on Twitter @MalloryMerda

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