Last season, Northwest Classen won the Class 5A boys' state soccer championship, the first team title for the school in any sport since 1985.
The Knights only have three starters back from last year's title squad, but they are knocking on the door of a second straight state championship game.
Northwest Classen (10-5) defeated previously unbeaten Western Heights 2-1 on Friday night in the 5A quarterfinals, setting up a date with Tulsa Washington on Tuesday night in the semifinals. Game time is 7:30 at Taft Stadium.
Northwest coach Daniel Desouza said his young club doubted at the beginning of the season that they could repeat as champs.
“The first day of practice I talked about trying to repeat,” he said. “Several of them were afraid. It was such a big task to ask of them. They were very young. Some fear creeped in. They just didn't think they could do what the guys did last year.”
But the Knights played their best game of the season in beating Western Heights, in double overtime as Jonathan Flores scored the game-winning goal. Now everyone on the team is a believer.
“I am not the one saying it,” Desouza said. “The coaching staff is not saying it. They are saying it now. We are focused on winning it.
“We have two games to go. I don't want to speak prematurely, but the boys are beginning to think they can win it all. That's where I want them to be.”
The Knights' top playmaker this season has been junior Thian Bawi, who leads the team with 10 goals.
“He was quite a handful for the (Western Heights) defenders,” Desouza said. “Every time he had the ball there were five players converging on him.”
The Knights have not been as explosive offensively as last season, but they have found a way to win in the playoffs.
“We haven't scored as many goals, but we're OK with that as long as we win,” Desouza said. “We are not complaining.”
Northwest was just 8-5 in the regular season, but Desouza said his club lost several close games due to inexperience.
“We have a really young squad, and they were just not experienced enough to know how to finish games,” he said.
But now Northwest is peaking at the right time.
“I think it is all coming together,” Desouza said.