The Hannibal boys soccer team is fresh off a 20-win campaign and its first-ever undefeated run to the North Central Missouri Conference championship.
The Pirates' mission is crystal clear for the upcoming season.
"If we come out with heart and play hard, we've got the guys and the talent to beat anybody in our conference again," said senior Adam Albright, who scored 41 goals and dished out 17 assists a year ago.
Unlike last season, when Hannibal returned a full starting lineup, a new wave of talent will play vital roles at the varsity level when the Pirates open the season at Elsberry on Aug. 31.
The Pirates are retooled but not lacking in confidence or leadership.
"We've got a lot of new guys to varsity who are going to transition onto the field in important roles," Albright said. "The seniors will need to be leaders because there are a lot of younger guys who will be getting minutes this year. It's part of our job to show the way."
Albright and Nathan DeStefane will pair up as the starting forwards. DeStefane, a junior, transitions from being an outside midfielder to take over for graduated standout Cory Allensworth.
The playmakers will be the front men for an offense that scored six or more goals in 12 of 25 matches last year.
Six of those games were against conference opponents.
"Adam is so strong on the ball, and Nathan has really been improving too so I think we'll see big numbers out of him this year," Hannibal coach Eric Hill said.
Collin Poage is primed to serve as a centerpiece for the midfield.
The small, shifty senior will make the switch to center mid and be tasked with controlling the flow of the game.
"Collin is one of our most improved players, and that's coming from a kid that started as a sophomore and played a variety of roles last year," Hill said. "For his size, he's strong on the ball and his tenacity in the middle of the field is going to be something to look for."
Who else will start in the midfield? That's up in the air.
There is internal competition among four players for the remaining three starting roles in the midfield: senior Micah Blaine, sophomore Tristen Terrill, sophomore Caleb Young and freshman Kolin Westhoff.
Westhoff has displayed skill level well beyond his years.
"Kolin is in good shape and he works really hard to go after the ball," Poage said of his freshman teammate. "His passing is solid. I'm excited to see how he does."
Caleb Ketsenburg will be an anchor for the defense at sweeper.
The senior made the move from midfield to play sweeper last year, organizing the back line and thwarting opposing threats with a combination of speed and patience.
Jake Riefesel, a four-year starter, joins senior Kabren Robinson and junior Mason Tharp in rounding out the defensive unit.
"We have a lot of solid players so we should be good on defense," said Ketsenburg. "The key will be communicating, not getting frustrated with each other and working through everything. If we get scored on, we need to come back even stronger."
A new face will stand between the pipes for the Pirates.
John Maune, a year removed from his first season of high school soccer, takes over as the starting goalkeeper for Hannibal.
"John has played well so far in preseason," Hill said of the senior. "He reads the ball really well and gets to some stuff that you don't think he would. I think we're pretty solid in goal."
Hannibal is likely to receive stiff tests from rival contenders Marshall and Kirksville in the race for the NCMC title. The Pirates needed overtime for both of its wins over Kirksville last season. They posted 3-1 and 3-0 triumphs against Marshall.
The Pirates will face a rigorous stretch at the end of the regular season when they play Hickman, Marshall and Troy on the cusp of the Class 3 District 7 Tournament.
"Hopefully we will have ourselves battle-tested by the end of the season," Hill said.