It's time for the grand opening.
After last year's soft opening with a junior-varsity squad, the Calvary/Tolton Lions are a full-fledged varsity soccer team heading into the 2013 season opener against Iberia at 5 p.m. Tuesday at the 63 Sports Complex.
"The challenge will mostly be the youth and inexperience of the players," Calvary-Tolton head coach Thomas Senter said, referencing the 10 players (out of 19) that are either freshmen or new to the team. "The returning players have played the varsity teams and that is a blessing, but definitely the large number of freshmen that we have (will make the first varsity season a challenge). Our opening game is against a district opponent. It will be an eye-opener for sure."
Calvary/Tolton went 3-5-1 last season as JV team, playing a schedule consisting of both varsity and JV teams. Now the Lions have expanded their scheduled to include 13 regular-season games, still a combination of varsity and JV squads, and will now be able to participate in the Missouri State High School Activities Association playoffs.
"I'm expecting growing pains for a few years to come," Senter said. "We started out last season with three wins. We kind of surprised ourselves with that.
"We have some very talented players with soccer backgrounds. They really are our backbone and have helped carry the team and raised the rest of the team to a higher caliber. I expect that to happen again this season. I think it will take us a little bit longer to get in our groove."
The Lions' 19 players on the roster are quite an upgrade from last season's 12-man team.
"I got down to 10. I played a man short a few times," Senter said of last season. "It's nice to have a bench."
Ten players hail from Calvary Lutheran, with nine coming from the Columbia-based Father Tolton.
"You would think it would be a weakness with it being a co-op team, but the team really meshes well together," Senter said. "There's no riffs in the team that way, so that's a blessing."
Even though more than half the team is new to high-school soccer, Calvary/Tolton is blessed with a strong returning nucleus on defense.
It all starts with sophomore Ross Schlichting in goal. Sophomore Sam Molli and senior Todd Rakow will assume starting spots in the central defense.
"They're a solid unit," Senter said. "This year we have an additional senior, Caleb Murray. I see him being very beneficial to our backline along with some up and coming freshmen who have shown really good defensive-minded solidness."
Things are a little more unsettled up top, as the Lions don't return any of last season's goal scorers.
"Last year we were more of a run-and-gun operation," Senter said. "This year I see us developing more of a build-it-up style, having that solid defense to bring it up the field and more confidence on the ball with my midfielders.
"We've been blessed to always have one Speedy Gonzalez, so we'll see if he can't poke a few in here and there. That's going to be Kyle Kolzow."
Senter is expecting big things from the rest of his team.
"We have a more solid roster that's accustomed to high-school sports," he said. "Hopefully we can get the mindset there and be prepared to start playing.
"I want to come out and be competitive as far as a varsity program. I'd like to make a show for districts and definitely improve on our record from last season. Now we recognize most of the teams we play. It's not our first time seeing them."
It all starts with Iberia today.
"I'm hoping to see a strong defense," Senter said. "That's what I expect. I don't expect to be giving up any easy goals. Some looks at goal, I'm not expecting us to run away with it or anything being the younger of the teams.
"I'm sure size and the aggression in our district is a lot higher than we typically bring it, but yet we're not ballhandlers enough to get around that. We still have to match up a little bit. I've got some bigger incoming defenders that I think will body up and play with them."