West Fargo Sheyenne's inexperience was on display for much of the 2018 boys soccer season.
Playing with a roster full of underclassmen, the Mustangs won just one of their final 11 games to finish the year 3-10-3. This proved to be the worst finish in the program's short history, with the Mustangs' three wins coming against teams that won a combined two games.
And though there were some key departures -- including standout forward Patrick Smith and goalie Damien Koering -- coach Jon Melendez-Soloaga is confident the lumps his young team took a year ago will be of great benefit this fall.
"Last year we were pretty young," he said. "A lot of sophomores, freshman. Their experience last year was a big key. This year there's a lot of confidence knowing what they're playing against."
An offense that scored one or fewer goals in 11 of 16 games a year ago should get a boost with the return of Hussein Mohamed and Kayden Aberle. Mohamed, a senior four-year starter, had a team-high eight goals last season, while Aberle, a junior, was right behind with seven.
Melendez-Soloaga is hoping the offense can come out sharp to help an inexperienced defense that is still looking for its replacement of Koering in goal.
Regardless of who's in net, the primary goal for the Sheyenne season is crystal clear.
While they've had impressive stretches, most notably a six-game unbeaten streak that got them within a point of making the 2017 field, the Mustangs are still looking to make their first appearance in the state tournament.
"The guys know, going through a year, our goal is to go to state and we're hungry to achieve it," Melendez-Soloaga said. "And I think that's definitely an achievable goal this year just because of the experience and the return of the guys and the chemistry we've created the last year together."
Melendez-Soloaga is also confident his team can rise through the ranks in the East due to having much less roster overhaul than several of his Eastern Dakota Conference rivals.
While West Fargo and Fargo Davies, who met in the state championship game last fall, parted with a combined total of 25 seniors from 2018, the Mustangs lost only six. And while no one is expecting an easy romp through EDC play, Melendez-Soloaga also doesn't expect his club to get lost in the shuffle.
"We know our conference is very tough," he said. "So it's going to be how much we want it and how bad we want it. That's going to be the biggest challenge in each game.
"But I'm really optimistic about our program."
Sheyenne opens regular season play at the Jamestown Invitational Saturday.