As far as tradition goes, Arapahoe boys soccer is up there with the best programs in the state: The Warriors’ five crowns is only bettered by the six titles held by Broomfield and Cherry Creek, and every fall the squad seems to be a perennial 5A state championship contender.
But this year, as No. 4 Arapahoe gears up for another Centennial League gauntlet and presumable playoff run, what’s the importance of tradition to a team filled with players who weren’t even born when AHS captured its last crown in 1997?
It’s a balance that 14th-year coach Mark Hampshire and his staff are still trying to find—a balance between past and present, a balance between the storied tradition of ‘A.B.K.’ and the current group of footballers the Warriors now have on their roster.
“It’s something that, as coaches, we’re trying to figure out every year,” says Hampshire, who was an assistant on three AHS championship squads in the 1990s. “We’re fortunate enough in our school to have that understanding of what tradition is and how unique it is considering our relationship with the Arapaho tribal nation and the success we’ve had academically.
“So that understanding is there already, but it’s hard when your last title is in ’97 and kids go, ‘Well, what tradition do we have with (boys soccer)?’ And so there’s a balance to be had of making each year their own yet also making sure we don’t have to keep going back and saying ‘this is what we want to achieve’ based off the pressure of the past.”
The 2016 ABK boys team is laden with 11 seniors, but Hampshire is quick to acknowledge the Warriors have a long way to go in order to experience the league and postseason success that the ABK teams of the 1990s had.
“We have a lot of seniors, but it’s still a young team,” Hampshire says. “We’ve got some returning veterans that have played varsity for two, three years, and we’ve also got some new seniors who have been on J.V.—so this is their first go at it. Because even though on paper it looks like we’re an old team, a lot of the seniors have just played their first varsity games, so we kind of have to treat it as if we have a young team.”
Key veteran returners include senior defenseman Evan Bunch, senior midfielder Jacob Draudt, senior striker Ethan Fahn and senior striker Mason Gueller on a team that has talent, yes, but also must summon an array of key intangibles to compete with the likes of No. 6 Cherry Creek and No. 10 Grandview in league play as well as the usual suspects (Boulder, Fairview, Mountain Vista, et al) in the playoffs.
“When I look at those state championship teams in the 1990s, none of them were the most talented team in the state,” Hampshire notes. “There were those extra intangibles that they brought—the commitment to winning, the commitment to training, the commitment to each other. So if we can help our guys learn from the past in that way that’s great, because there is absolutely a disconnect to our tradition because the titles were a long time ago. So we have to balance that understanding with the new type of players that we have.”
In particular, the Warriors (1-1) must lean on its most seasoned players to bring its varsity newcomers up to speed rather quickly, especially in the physical aspect of the game that is markedly different from the J.V. to the varsity level.
“There’s an added physical nature to the game that some of these guys aren’t quite used to, and there’s a chemistry aspect to it we have to get down,” Hampshire says. “The best teams that I’ve coached have been teams that may be lacking in talent, but they trust each other and they hold each other accountable and that pushes them through that lack of technique and talent.”
Arapahoe is set to host the Warrior Invitational at Littleton Public Schools Stadium next week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday, and league play begins on Sept. 17 against archrival Heritage. In the meantime, Hampshire & Co. will hit the pitch not just to train, but to find out exactly what kind of team they are—and what kind of team, come November, they can become.