MERRILLVILLE | To say Andrean's boys soccer team has caught some people off guard this season would be an understatement.
However, the Times No. 1 59ers knew they had many key pieces of the puzzle in place this season, so the success they've enjoyed has come as no surprise to team captains Hayden Fogle, Dean Ricciardi, Dave Zuccarelli, Connor Gorny and the rest of their teammates and coaches.
With five starting seniors and 10 on this season's roster, Fogle knows that increased maturity level has meant wonders for the team.
"Mainly, we all just got a lot older," said Fogle, who leads the team with 18 goals and 12 assists this season. "We have one more year of experience. Last year, we had two seniors on the team, so (this year) we had a big, core group of seniors coming up. I feel like we're a lot closer than we used to be."
Gorny, a central midfielder with five goals and five assists, has also noticed significant changes from the 2010 team, as far as just growing closer as teammates.
"We're all really good friends," he said. "We don't single anyone out. We're a team, and we like to keep it that way."
Defensively, Zuccarelli, a junior, has anchored that side of the ball from his sweeper position all season. Andrean coach Pete Reist calls him his most consistent player. The improvement of the defense showed in a 5-1 win over No. 6 Crown Point earlier this season, as well as key wins over No. 5 Chesterton and No. 4 Bishop Noll.
"I think we have a lot more skill back there now," Zuccarelli said. "Everybody can control the ball really well back there. Our defense is really tight."
As a starting outside midfielder, Ricciardi has contributed five goals and six assists this season. He and Gorny have worked as a very successful duo in the midfield.
"It gets a little frustrating at times, but we're all out here for a common goal," Ricciardi said, obviously speaking of a state title.
Having five senior starters on the field has improved both the leadership and skill levels that the 59ers can trot out on to the soccer pitch – which has meant only positive results for the younger players.
"They get to see what type of players these guys are, and what they can learn from that," Reist said. "They understand if they can do the things that these guys are doing, they'll be out there next year."
Fogle, who plans in playing soccer in college, is anxiously awaiting the postseason to begin. The 59ers will face Westville on Wednesday, with a Class A sectional championship tilt between Andrean and host Bishop Noll likely.
"I'm really excited," Fogle said. "We still have a really bad taste in our mouths from the regional last year (a 2-1 loss to Noll on penalty kicks). Every game we lost last year, we try to avenge that loss. Bishop Noll is a really good team, but we are, too."