Athlete turnover is an obvious reality in high school sports, but the obviously positive fact of graduation doesn't make it any easier for high school coaches to adjust from year-to-year.
With the Montour High school boys soccer team, heavy lineup turnover due to graduation has become the norm over the past two years rather than an occasional hurdle.
The Spartans featured 14 seniors in 2012, nine of whom were starters. This followed up a 2011 Montour squad that reached the WPIAL quarterfinals with 11 returning starters, including six seniors.
After six games this season, Montour sits at 3-3 overall, and 2-2 in Section 5-AA.
"We've typically been senior heavy," Montour coach Alex Hobbs said. "We've had to make changes this year, moreso than ever, in the case of replacing multiple-year starters. It's been a tough but good experience."
Hobbs has guided Montour to the WPIAL playoffs through a tricky section in three of his six seasons at the team's helm.
Despite facing such upheaval in his starting lineup, he said that playoff qualification remains the goal, as it is in any other season. The key, he said, will be getting positive results against the cream of the section, such as West Allegheny, South Fayette and Quaker Valley.
They went 0-5-1 against that trio last year, and have dropped early-season decisions to South Fayette and West Allegheny already this year.
"In our section, you don't really get easy games," he said. "It's really the team that can score one, maybe two goals. Sometimes, that's all that's necessary. All of the teams in our section play great defense."
The heart of Montour's defense will be pivotal in keeping up with that section motif. Among the starters gone from last season was senior center back Nathan Dearth. A two-time All-PIAA selection, Dearth is currently playing for Northwestern as a true freshman.
Stepping in centrally is the tandem of seniors Jerome Givi and Nathan McCarthy, each in their first year as starters.
"Center defense is one of the most important positions," Givi said. "In summer, I was kind of thinking about [how influential our role would be]. I've been preparing."
After some admitted butterflies in the team's season-opening loss to Sewickley, the pair has settled in at the back.
"I trust Jerome, I've played with him a long time," McCarthy said.
Converting back to defense from midfield, McCarthy often follows up Givi's aggressive defensive style by cleaning up whatever gets through. It's not a true stopper-sweeper setup, but more a result of the players having a feel of each other's tendencies.
Such cohesion has been a strong point with this year's squad, Hobbs said.
"Of all the teams I've had in my seven years, I don't think I've had a team this close friendship-wise," he said.
"They truly support each other. ... It's not meant to talk down on past teams, but these guys seem to be very, very close. There's a healthy competition, but in a very positive way."
Perhaps the biggest key to the Spartans' success is senior forward John Butya, regarded as Montour's top offensive threat. Strong and physical, his ability to hold up the ball creates chances for teammates like speedy wide midfielders Ryan Janas, a senior, and sophomore Chris O'Hanlon.
Centrally, senior Chris O'Toole and junior Nick Foster are vital against a strong array of midfield competition in the section.
Continuous growth is essential for new-look Montour, which has won three of its past four matches, including an 8-0 win against Carrick and a 1-0 non-section victory Tuesday against Beaver Area. As the team grows, Hobbs believes that future matchups against the best of Section 5-AA could see different results.
"Every practice, this is a team that improves," he said. "Wins aren't going to come easy, but they've accepted the challenge."