The ominous beginning to the Horizon Honors boys soccer season hasn't stopped the Eagles from getting off to a great start.
Horizon is 4-1 at the varsity level and ranked fifth in the Class 1A/2A/3A power rankings, the highest the program has ever been, with its next match not until after winter break on Jan. 4.
"We have been playing great," sophomore Jordan Mattouk said. "We have been surprising some teams, but we know (the schedule) is going to be tougher when we start playing again."
The season didn't start with great promise as goalie Dylan Edmundson sustained a concussion in the first half of the first game on Nov. 29 and had to be taken to the hospital. He jumped up for a block and was undercut by a Valley Lutheran player. He fell hard on his neck and missed time until returning Dec. 13 against Tanque Verde.
"It was scary because Dylan has always been there for us," junior Shota Austin said. "He's had jammed fingers and stuff like that, but to see him taken off the field was hard to watch."
It might have shaken up the team at first, but the Eagles rallied. Freshman Kole Powell moved into goal despite little playing experience and first-year coach Kevin Burke's style opened up the offense.
And the team took off.
"We are having fun," Burke said. "It's nice for me to show up and find kids who want to play. We have the mindset that if you have fun, good things will happen. It started bad, but it brought us together."
Horizon Honors lost its next game, 2-0, to top-ranked Pusch Ridge in Tucson but have reeled off three straight wins heading into the break with an overall scoring differential of 14-3.
"At first I didn't like schedule," said Burke, who is also an assistant at Mesa Community College. "Three weeks off is too much, but this gives us some time to work on things. The level of the opponents we have played compared to who we are going to play is completely different. We have been pretty good so far, but our schedule is about to get much tougher."
After facing Gilbert Christian in the first match back, the Eagles then take on Central Region opponents Fountain Hills, Scottsdale Christian and Valley Christian.
In other words, crank it up a notch.
"Those teams are always tough," said Austin, a 6-foot junior aggressive defender. "We could always hang with them defensively, but we couldn't score. Coach has opened up our offense, and now I think we could play with them."
While those three region games will be a good barometer the team is also looking to get into the postseason. The Eagles always seem to finish just outside of the power rankings. Now with the good start and a strong finish that just might change.
"We are going to have to be more focused, and we have the ability to do it," said Mattouk, who has seven of the teams 14 goals. "We just have to get our concentration and confidence up to par."
Burke said the team is not even close to being a finished product. There is plenty of room for growth and as long as they stay within the parameters of the team's philosophy they should continue to improve.
"We are staying organized and not letting the other team have many opportunities," he said. "It's a matter of doing the things we are good at and not allowing the opponent to do the things they are good at."
Seniors Brad Fullman, Ryan Sangston and Mike Homan have been heavy contributors as well with two goals apiece, while Matt Drapkin and Nathan Miller lead the team with two assists apiece.
"We have to play as a team, talk more on defense and outwork the other team," said Powell, who has allowed four goals against 17 saves. "Coach has really taught us to be better teammates, and we have confidence now that we didn't have at the beginning of the season."