TRURO - It was laid out crystal clear for the Cobequid Cougars last year.
Winning a regional title is the best way to get to the NSSAF Division 1 boys soccer championship; finish second and you make things much more difficult for yourself.
The talented Cougars had their season ended early after falling to the Dr. John Hugh Gillis Royals in the regional final, forcing them to a pair of qualifying matches where they ultimately were eliminated by the Dartmouth Spartans.
"It's really hard to get there if you don't win the region so that's the first order of business," Cougars coach Jay Foster said. "We want to start with (the regional title) on the road to challenging for provincials because we've played with the best teams in the province the last few years and we're right there with them we think."
That quest starts Thursday at 4:30 p.m. when they host the rival North Nova Gryphons at CEC Field. Veteran keeper Tim Trites said it will be important for the Cougars to come out with a victory to get the ball rolling.
"It'll definitely be a big boost and take a lot of pressure off and hopefully give us the start to go on a tear," he said.
Armed with the lessons of last season, the Cougars are excited about what the 2012 campaign could have in store. The team boasts five seniors who have been with the team for the past three years and 13 returning players.
"This is my third year and I'd say all around this is the best team we've had," said senior centre fullback Ryan Huelin.
Along with their experience, players like Trites, Huelin, Zach Mawhinney, Austin Castellanos and Josiah McNutt also bring plenty of skill to the table, along with Daniel Vanderpoel, who moved to Truro from Germany last year.
Grade 11 standouts Charlie Hunter and Richard MacNevin and rookie Ben Gorringe, a member of Nova Scotia's under-16 program, also bring plenty of talent to the equation.
The number of players who can make things happen also brings a smile to Foster's face.
"It's a lot of names but we have that kind of balance," he said. "Last year we had a couple superstars and this year I think we have way more balance."
Huelin said that should play into Cobequid's hand, making it more difficult for opponents to shut them down.
"Because it's not like we'll be trying to feed it to one or two players," he said. "Everybody on the field has good skill, we can pass it to anybody and they can hold their own."