Drew Rote stands in goal for Marple Newtown with his mind totally at ease.
Like most members of his boys' soccer team - which returned just three regular varsity players this season - Rote, a senior, looks and plays as if he has been there before.
The Tigers (5-1-1, 3-0-1) have rattled off five straight wins and four straight shutouts, putting them in second place in the Central League.
All thanks to a swagger and trust that Rote said hasn't always been there in years past.
"Last year, my confidence was good but it could be shaken easily," said Rote, who spent his junior season rotating between Marple Newtown's varsity and junior varsity teams.
"Now, this year, with the people we have on our team, with the success we've had, and with the trust we have in each other, I'm very confident in goal. I have no reservations about being out there."
Rote credits his team's fast start and new attitude to a rigorous off-season, spearheaded by the leadership of goalie coach Zach Weimar.
Marple Newtown's defense, including Scott Hyland, Jon Goldstein, Andrew Vassallo, and Wil Kauffman, has turned what could have been a weakness into one of the team's greatest strengths.
"I just think the kids bought into the system," head coach Charlie Dodds said. "We don't have the FC Delco players or the Pa. Classics players on this team, but we've been able to have success because we know how to work together as a unit."
The Tigers will begin their season's toughest stretch this week with games against Strath Haven, Springfield (Delco), and Unionville.
"Our attitude is that we can beat anyone on any given day," Rote said. "And if we can keep our attitude and our confidence over these next couple weeks, then we will be pretty tough to beat."
The stitching. Upper Moreland coach Jack Knauss describes Menvekah Daramay as "the stitching that keeps us all sown together."
Daramay has been one the most feared goal-scorers in the area since he started his first game as a freshman in 2007.
Now a senior, Daramay has played in every single varsity game since his freshman year.
He has grown into the leader of a team that sits at 5-1 (3-1, Suburban One League American) and is looking to play spoiler in a conference filled with bigger schools and deeper teams.
"On and off the field, I try to keep everyone cool and collected," said Daramay, who has five goals this season. "Sometimes, referees aren't going to make calls that you think are going to go your way. But I know for a fact that when you talk back to the referees, they are less likely to give you the benefit of the doubt.
"So I just try to keep us focused on the task at hand."
Daramay, a midfielder, is joined this season by six seniors, all of whom ensured that their team quickly bounced back after its only misstep - a tough 5-0 loss to conference foe Wissahickon.
The Bears followed the Wissahickon loss with a double-overtime victory over conference rival Upper Dublin. Carl Wambold netted the winner in that match.
The true test. These are the times that Octorara coach Kevin Noon said separate his team from most of the other teams competing for the PIAA Class AA state championship.
Octorara (5-2-1, 2-0 Ches-Mont League), the defending state champion, is entering a stretch in which it will face not only much bigger schools, but also schools expected to compete for state titles in higher classifications.
"When we go out and play teams in the states, they're surprised when we say we're in the Ches-Mont League, because everybody knows about Rustin and Unionville and Great Valley," Noon said. "So when I started rattling off who we play twice a year, they were shocked. They were really surprised.
"A lot of these districts are smaller and they just play each other all the time. So it definitely helps us to go through the league and play teams that are two to three times bigger than you."
Fielding a team with only three returning starters from last year's championship run, Noon is eager to see how his players respond to the challenge of these next two weeks. Octorara's next six opponents include Rustin, Great Valley, and Downingtown West.
"A lot of the guys on the team are sick of being compared to last year," Noon said. "So I think they're kind of waiting to play these bigger schools to see how they measure up."