To Dundee-Crown boys soccer coach Rey Vargas, this really is no different from any other season.
Forget for a moment Vargas' Chargers have yet to face defeat through their first 16 games. Forget it because it's what Vargas and assistant coach Sebastian Falinski expect from their team every year.
Contact information ( * required )
"Quite honestly, I think we have this kind of potential every year," Vargas said before a practice earlier this week. "It just depends on the group and how hard they're willing to work."
So far, the 2013 Chargers have proved to have quite the impeccable work ethic. After beating Crystal Lake South Thursday night, D-C is 13-0-1 for the season, the only blemish to a spotless record being a 0-0 tie with Hononegah in the Indian Cup Tournament.
This comes on the heels of a 16-4-1 season in 2012, one that ended abruptly with a loss to Barrington in the first round of the postseason, but was one of D-C's most successful campaigns in program history.
Now, with a group of 10 seniors and several other experienced players, the Chargers are winning with regularity and are a threat to win their first conference championship since 2005 and possibly the first regional crown in program history.
And as with many sports, for D-C on the pitch, it all starts with defense. This Charger bunch has guarded its net like a bear guards its cubs, allowing just 4 goals all season. The defense has helped junior goalie Jose Gonzalez register 10 shutouts already.
"Defense is what wins games," says senior co-captain Francisco Nava who is, of course, a defender. "We can score three but what's the point if we give up four? Defense is definitely a focus of our game. Anyone who comes to play us has to know scoring isn't going to be easy."
The Chargers don't put all the defensive responsibility on just the traditional back four defenders. To this Dundee-Crown squad, it's a team thing.
"It's defense as a whole," said senior co-captain Carlos Ramos, also a defender. "That's the key to winning. It's not just the back four, it's everyone. Our mentality is to play defense first because that creates offense."
Even to one of the top offensive players on the team, defense is the springboard for the Chargers to end the day successfully.
"We have a really good defense and the biggest part is we play as a team," said senior midfielder Ben Stone, who leads the team with 7 goals and 5 assists and is drawing interest from several colleges, including Eastern Illinois. "We don't care who gets the recognition. As long as we score and win we're happy.
"We communicate really well as a team and we keep things on the same page. That's a big thing with our back line."
Vargas is quick to agree defense is where it all starts for the Chargers, and he emphasizes the team aspect as well.
"We stress team defense a lot," said the 9th-year head coach. "That's what wins games, and it's not just the back four."
With 10 seniors and 10 juniors on the roster, the familiarity the Chargers have with each other is another key component to their success.
"They're used to each other," Vargas said. "They know each other's tendencies and with that dynamic they don't have to question who is doing what when. It just happens."
The soccer team's success hasn't gone unnoticed around school. Add in a resurgence from the girls volleyball team and a 3-1 football team, and it's turning into an exciting fall at Dundee-Crown, something not said every year at this time around 1 Charger Country.
"It's a great year to be a part of Dundee-Crown athletics," said Stone. "Volleyball, football and soccer are all doing well and on Facebook and Twitter we're all congratulating each other. It's all real positive and it feels good."
"The past couple of years there's been a change in attitude and school spirit," Vargas says. "Our sports programs doing well and doing positive things translates that way to the hallways."
Now what the Chargers' soccer team would like to focus on is winning a conference title then making some room in the trophy case for postseason hardware.
"We really take just one game at a time but we really want to win a regional and I think we can do it if we keep working hard," said Nava.
Said Ramos: "Our goal is to win conference and regionals and not get scored on. Our team is really clicking right now and this is a good thing for Crown. We've never had a winning team like this one."
Vargas and the Chargers know winning the Fox Valley Conference Valley Division title won't be easy. It's one time around, a six-game schedule, so any loss could mean no conference plaque. D-C's first Valley game, Thursday's win over CL South, is just the precursor to the next couple of weeks. McHenry, Prairie Ridge, Huntley and Cary-Grove are all on the schedule, then it finishes with a nonconference game against Larkin and the regular-season finale against District 300 and FVC Valley rival Jacobs.
"Every team has a shot on any given day," said Falinski, who is D-C's varsity girls soccer coach in addition to Vargas' assistant with the boys.
"With the exception of a couple teams everyone in the conference is having a phenomenal year," Vargas said. "Nothing's a cakewalk."
The postseason has changed for the Chargers this year but it promises to be as challenging as ever. Instead of being paired with Barrington again, the Chargers will play in the Class 3A Streamwood regional on the turf of Millennium Field. It's a regional full of formidable foes in Elgin, Larkin, South Elgin and the host Sabres, who are now 10-2-1.
"We're in a tough regional but if we work hard enough it's possible to win it," Vargas said.
"We're fighting for the conference championship and then in the postseason, we'd like to get hopefully get that regional championship," Stone said. "I think we can go pretty far."
If the Chargers continue the path they're on, there will definitely be a need to make some room in the school's trophy case.