CHATHAM, NJ - The formula was a simple one: More intensity in practice will turn into more victories in real games.

Chatham boys soccer coach Mark Maka reaped the rewards of that philosophy in 2013, when the Cougars turned a slow start into an NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 state championship. 

"When the turnaround happened, it was with shift in intensity toward training," Maka said. "These guys are aware that that's what is needed. It was a good end to the year. It's always important to try and get off to a good start. That being said, we know it's about always working to get better each day. After experiencing last year, this group knows what it took to get to that level."

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Senior Brian Graham talks about the upcoming boys soccer season in video below

A number of the key pieces from last season return, led by playmaking striker Brian Graham, and goalkeeper Henry Stusnick. Graham led the team with 17 goals and Stusnick started every game in goal for the Cougars. Those two join senior midfielder Graham Delaney as the tri-captains of this veteran group.

Graham will be the focal point of Chatham's three-striker attack. Also returning up front are seniors Jared Wood and Miles Michell. With Graham expected to be a marked man, Wood and Michell should be able to step up their scoring.

"We like to keep it fluid and moving in different ways," Maka said.

Senior Greg Mah returns to play right back and senior Will Shi moves in at left back. In Chatham's scheme, Mah and Shi will have opportunities to get forward down the wings.

Maka plays four in the back, but the formation isn't exactly set in stone, with the use of as many as five midfielders. Delaney is joined by seniors Matt Toolajian and Billy Calvert. Delaney's ability in the air makes him a dangerous target on restarts for Chatham.

"We want to get numbers in the midfield," Maka said. "Greg (Mah) and Will (Shi) will be gettting forward on the outside."

There is competition right now for two vacant center back spots left by the graduation of P.J. DiBenedetto and Andy Milone. The lack of experience in the back will put more pressure on the 6-6 Stusnick to take charge of the defense.

"He started and played in every game as a sophomore," Maka said of Stusnick. "This year he'll be asked to do more. He was blessed to have two senior captains in front of him as center backs. He'll be really important this year, not just in terms of making saves, but in organizing us an getting us going. He's a full-time soccer player. He has great potential. Scott Forbes of Delbarton is the best goalkeeper in the area, but he could be up there in that category."