After defeating Meade last week, the Southern boys' soccer team whooped and hollered and screamed with joy.

It was just one game, the eighth in a 12-game schedule. But the Bulldogs ignored the old mantra of "act like you've been here before" because, when it comes to winning, they haven't.

Last season's 0-12 record was the continuation of recent struggles for the program, though Southern did win one game in the region tournament.

This season, new coach Al Katz's nurturing style and focus on fundamentals has tightened player response on the field and transformed the team into a kinetic ball of euphoria, with every positive event setting the players off.

The work is clearly paying off: The Bulldogs are 5-3 entering this week.

"When we won the second game of our season, it was the first county victory for the team in a while," said Katz. "And after the game, they drenched me with the water cooler."

Katz's team-first attitude has revitalized the program.

"We have three rules on this team. The first is to have fun, the second is to be excellent sportsmen and the third is to never give up," said Katz. "And we always emphasize the positive."

With 15 years of coaching experience in numerous sports, the retired Navy officer has approached this position with an encouraging strictness, and his players have flourished.

"We have one main principle on this team," Katz said. "It's okay to make a mistake."

During practices, Southern focuses on techniques and tactics, specifically the practice of different field sets. That has produced a hard-nosed defense and a productive offense. Seniors David Faber and Mike Day anchor the defense.

"David is our iron man; he'd go through a wall for this team. And Mike is such a tenacious defender; he's always going after people," Katz said.

Sophomore Austin Shaw and senior Steve Anderson have been the cornerstones on offense.

Against Meade, Shaw broke away from his defender, drew the goalkeeper out of the net and drilled the ball over the goalie's outstretched hands into the net. It was Shaw's 10th goal this year and gave the Bulldogs the lead for good.

Shaw is "one of those special players that you get every once in a lifetime. He's an extremely gifted and talented athlete," said Katz.

Complementing Shaw is Anderson, who has five assists, and Faber, who has also contributed on offense with three goals.

"We have such a balanced approach," said Katz. "We have four players on our team with three goals or more and eight with a goal or an assist.

"We utilize each player's strength within the context of the team. We're always working on building team unity, and we already have great chemistry."

Said Shaw: "The teamwork is a real difference this year. Everyone's working together now."

Katz also credits the team's unity to his seniors.

"This past summer, when I knew I was going to be coaching this team, I planned different events for the seniors. One time it was a pool party, the other time we went to a D.C. United game," said Katz. "Our senior core has been a significant part of the leadership of this team."

And team cohesiveness isn't limited to the players.

"[My assistants] and I are all on the same page. We're building a soccer program here," Katz said.