There's a saying in sports that getting to the top is easy, but staying there is hard.
The Bloomingdale High School boys soccer team is finding that out this year. After winning the district title last year, the Bulls are featuring nine new starters this season.
In its first five games this year, Bloomingdale only won once while losing twice and tying twice. Despite getting off to a slow start, head coach Troy Smith still has the same goal of making it to the playoffs.
"We're not going to change expectations," said Smith, who has led the Bulls to the regional round in each of his first three seasons as Bloomingdale's coach. "A lot of people are trying to write this off as a rebuilding year."
Bloomingdale is in a tough district that features Wharton, Durant and Newsome. The Bulls lost to Wharton 2-0 on Nov. 16, but Bloomingdale was not at full strength for that game; many players were at a tournament for their club teams. The Bulls also lost to Durant 2-1 last week, in the first game back from Thanksgiving break.
Bloomingdale will play Newsome on Dec. 14 in a game that Smith knows will be tough.
"Newsome will be the team to beat (in the district)," Smith said.
Given the program's success over the last three years, Bloomingdale can usually expect to get a top-notch effort from the opposition every time.
"Teams can mark us on their calendar. We just have to stay focused and try to prevent mental lapses," Smith said.
With so many new players, Smith is still tinkering with his lineup and tactics. He is still using a base formation of four defenders, four midfielders and two forwards.
Among the new starters for the Bulls this year are seniors Mark Updike and Jacob Woodbury. Updike was a key sub for Bloomingdale last year who scored the winning goal for the Bulls in its district final game.
"Mark plays every minute for us now," Smith said.
While the Bulls would obviously like to do well in the regular season, Smith hopes for the team to gel together by late-January for another playoff run.
"We're trying to save gas (in practice) for the end of the year," Smith said. "It takes time to come together. We are looking at making a good run in January."