When Desert Vista boys soccer coach Michael Rabasca walks the sidelines lately he’s been carrying a notebook.

The Thunder have six freshmen and only five players returning from last season.

“In terms of numbers and classes, I’ve not had this young of a mix since probably 1998 or 1999,” Rabasca said.

“And I’ve never tried so many different combinations in high school, so keeping notes on all of the combinations that seem to work best is a challenge,” he added. “But this is a good overall group of talented soccer players, and they are soccer players.”

Rabasca has had an opportunity to work on those combinations in the annual Diablos Soccer Tournament this week at the Tempe Sports Complex.

“Our goal in the tournament is that everyone gets to contribute,” Rabasca said. “We’re going to learn about each player and obviously, in high school, getting a chance to see players before the games count is difficult.”

The Diablo tournament wins and loses do not count in the Arizona Interscholastic Association power point rating system that seeds teams through the season and in the playoffs.

“We certainly want to win games,” Rabasca said, “but I want to see players’ skills.”

He used 18 of the 21 players on his roster in the tournament opener.

“We’re defending well, but we’re not scoring goals,” Rabasca said. “We’ve got players who can score; it’s just a matter of finding the right combination at the right time.”

But he won’t call this a rebuilding year.

“At Desert Vista we don’t believe in rebuilding,” he said. “We don’t even use the word. Our expectation is to come out and play to the best of our ability. These freshmen are talented but it’s going to take a little time for them to figure out the high school system and the high school game.”

Rabasca hasn’t had more than three freshmen on the field at one time so far this season, but for a relatively young and inexperienced team, chemistry hasn’t been a problem.

“Today, in an age of youth and club soccer, there are a good number of kids who have played together at the club level and this team has some good chemistry off the field, too,” he said. “It’s my responsibility to see that the chemistry mixes on the field.”

Desert Vista didn’t make the playoffs last season, but the Thunder have won three state championships since 2002 and finished second to Phoenix Brophy in an overtime title game two years ago.

“We talk about who we are,” Rabasca said, “but the unique thing about our program is that every team defines itself. We certainly don’t want to forget the past. It would be disrespectful to those who went before, but every group has to define itself and that’s what drives them.”

When this season’s team figures that out Rabasca can probably put away his notebook.

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