Don't call it rebuilding. Call it replenishing.
Call it a perfect start. Call it the No. 4-ranked team in Class A.
Call it Carrington football.
To begin the season, the Cardinals (5-0 overall, 4-0 Class A Region 1) returned one starter - junior center Jayden Hesch - from their 2012 Class AA playoff team that graduated 14 seniors, including three all-state selections.
Coach Marty Hochhalter, in his 20th season at the helm, envisioned some bumps early in the season with a frenzy of fresh faces. He hoped to be competitive by the end of the year. He sure as heck didn't expect to be one of Class A's five unbeaten teams remaining through five games.
"You always, as a coach, would like to be in this situation," Hochhalter said. "We knew we could be competitive, but at the same time, did we really expect to be 5-0? No, by no means. Not with our schedule. Not with the teams we had right at the beginning of the year."
Carrington, now playing in Class A, was picked by Region 1 coaches to finish third in its new league.
The young Cardinals have a different idea.
They knocked off Harvey-Wells County, Linton-HMB, Kidder County, Ellendale-Edgeley-Kilm and Northern Cass, in order, to open the year.
The Cardinals' second-ranked scoring defense has stifled opponents with a 9.2 points against average. Linebackers Easton Paeper and Cole Ferguson, who play behind a five-man front, lead the team in tackles with 36 and 27, respectively.
"We've only given up 46 points on the year," Hochhalter said. "Our defense has done an excellent job. I think we're playing some pretty good, sound defense, and I think that's why we've been able to stay in some of these games."
Carrington's offense ranks fifth in points (35.4 per game), but it does so methodically - pummeling defenses with its running game.
The Cardinals average 300.8 yards a game. Four players have rushed for 175 yards or more this season, and six have rushed for a touchdown. Junior tailback Seth Abaurrea leads the bunch with 11 touchdowns and 748 yards on 99 carries.
The 5-foot-10, 140-pound Abaurrea received extensive playing time last season, but only in a backup role. He's grown into his starting responsibility with the help of an effective offensive line.
"It starts with those five guys up front that are playing extremely well," Hochhalter said.
Moving forward, Carrington hosts No. 5 Milnor-North Sargent on Friday, then travels to Hillsboro-Central Valley and Oakes to close the regular season.
After outscoring opponents by 26.2 points per game in their first five games, the Cardinals face the meat and potatoes of their schedule. The Bulldogs and Tornadoes, each 4-1 overall, were picked to finished first and second in Region 1, respectively. Hochhalter said he eagerly anticipates the upcoming matchups.
They're now replenished, not rebuilt.
"The best part about it, they're all young, too," Hochhalter said. "We only have four seniors on our roster."
New offense effective for Cardinals volleyball
For years, Carrington volleyball has mostly run a 6-2 offense. With the loss of setters Nikki Braaten and Josey Page to graduation, that changed.
This season, the Cardinals (15-4 overall, 4-1 Region 4) transitioned to a 5-1 offense, featuring a single setter: Junior Brooke Roseneau.
So far, it's working.
"She has done just an exceptional job of taking on that role," coach Sharon Boehmer said. "She's been a setter all her life, but we've done mostly 6-2 in the program."
Carrington has reeled of three straight victories, and have won 10 of its past 12 matches. Of its four losses, two are to likely state title contender Central Cass (21-0) - one of three teams remaining with unblemished records.
The Cardinals lost five seniors last year, but Boehmer feels her four seniors this year - middle blockers Madison Wendel and Kayla Hochhalter and outside hitters Jacey Engelhorn and Page Anderson - give them an opportunity to excel. They're the "nucleus of our team," she says.
"Expectations, as far as we're concerned, were high (to start the year)," Boehmer said. "We knew that we had positions to fill, but we still felt like there's a lot of talented athletes and volleyball players at Carrington High School."
Carrington's new 5-1 offense has proved successful so far, especially with quick sets to Wendel and Hochhalter.
The 6-foot Wendel and 5-11 Hochhalter play opposite each other in rotation, allowing each to split time as the go-to hitter.
"Their expectation is that they will carry each of those rotations," Boehmer said.
Roseneau has 330 assists this season, while Wendel and Hochhalter lead the team with 164 and 127 kills, respectively.
The Cardinals' service attack also frequently results in quick, easy points.
Hochhalter is tops on the team with 41 aces, followed by Engelhorn (38) and Wendel (35).
"We get our fair share of aces," Boehmer said. "We're able to get teams out of system, have the ball come back on a free pass and we set up and go from there."
The Cardinals hope "to get to the regional championship, if not win it," Boehmer said, but that's too far down the road for her to look. Tough matches against region foes Rolla and unbeaten North Star loom in the regular season.
But even before those ... "We've got three district matches ahead of us first," Boehmer said.
Ryan Holmgren covers high school sports and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgren.