TEAMS TO WATCH
1. Baylor: Despite losing a lot from a Division II-AA state championship team last year, the Red Raiders are still in good shape to make a long run.
2. Calhoun: The Yellow Jackets advanced to the Georgia Class AA state quarterfinals last season and are currently ranked fourth in the state.
3. Dalton: The Catamounts are 5-0 and ranked No. 2 in AAAA after a state-quarterfinal appearance a year ago.
4. East Hamilton: The Hurricanes are loaded after a Class A/AA state sectional appearance. They are a preseason top-10 team in Tennessee.
5. Southeast Whitfield: The Raiders -- currently fourth in Georgia's AAAA -- made the AAA state quarterfinals last season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
1. Hunter Brock, McCallie: The senior forward had 19 goals and seven assists last season for the Division II-AA state semifinalists.
2. Ramiro Huitanda, Dalton: He scored 35 goals a season ago and has 15 goals in his team's first five matches this year.
3. Jose Orellano, East Hamilton: As a freshman midfielder, Orellano led the team and was among the area leaders in assists.
4. David Perez, Northwest Whitfield: Perez has eight goals and five assists through the team's first three matches.
5. Alex Rosillo, Southeast Whitfield: Rosillo finished with 15 goals and 13 assists for the Raiders last season, despite missing the last few matches with a knee injury.
The roster for the Ooltewah boys' soccer team has had a huge makeover from the past two seasons. The program's expectations remain the same, however.
The Owls went a combined 29-10-1 the past two years, both of which ended with Region 3-AAA runner-up finishes and one-goal losses to Riverdale in the sectional round. They lost a number of key pieces from those teams, yet the ultimate goal of advancing to the state tournament is still very much in play as the TSSAA season gets under way Monday.
It just might take a while for everything to fall in place the way everybody involved in the program wants it to.
"The past few years, we've had the drive and will to win," senior captain Trey Tucker said. "We felt we had the talent and it was hard to come up short. That one game we could've worked harder in will drive us to be better this year."
There is a different makeup this time around, though. The Owls lost District 5-AAA offensive player of the year, as well as overall player of the year Felipe Munoz. Gone also is defensive player of the year Sean McClain. There will be no more steady play of midfielder Callum Wishart, nor will departed goalkeeper Hunter Rozzell be stopping shot attempts.
This year's version has players such as Tucker and Jacob Ray, primary holdovers from last season who will be asked to do more. Junior keeper Edgar Guerra will step in for Rozzell.
Ooltewah coach Rick Adolph said the team will be more talented and faster than previous years. He just doesn't know where he's going to put all of the speed.
"The guys coming back know what it takes, and so far they've shown they're willing to put forth the effort to get back there," Adolph said. "Right now, we've got four or five players that know where they're playing, and the rest is up in the air. We'll be fairly strong in some areas physically, and small but quick in other areas."
The hope is that the Owls will gain experience on the fly.
"Everyone will get the opportunity to prove themselves, and hopefully we'll be ready to go at the end of the season, when it counts," Adolph said. "We're pretty talented, but there are a lot of teams with talent that don't put it together, so we'll calm ourselves down and try to figure out how this team will look when it's said or done.
"Where will the pieces fit? Who will be our go-to guy? Who's going to demand more from their teammates? Those are the little things that make or break a postseason run."
Tucker, for one, said he's ready to be the team's leader.
"Last year's seniors had a confidence to them that I liked," he said. "They had a belief, and their confidence pushed us to a great record. This year we're even more determined. We might not have as much experience, but we have depth and talent, and our togetherness is even better.
"As a captain, I feel like we've built a strong togetherness in the team so that we can go further."