The St. John’s girls’ soccer team celebrated a WCAC championship last season, but are rebuilding this year. (Katherine Frey/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Last November, 14 girls finished their senior soccer season at St. John’s the way they’d always talked about, celebrating the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference tournament title at the Maryland SoccerPlex. Now 12 of them play in college, and Coach Devin Payton does his best to keep tabs on the group.

The former players and their parents want to stay updated, too. Several have reached out via e-mail: How are the Cadets doing without the graduating class of 2012?

“I tell them we’re doing okay,” Payton said. “We’ve got some serious young talent. When we get bigger and stronger, more experienced, this group is going to be tough, too. They have done their absolute best to keep the tradition going. Me and my staff aren’t too worried at this point.”

In Payton’s second season, St. John’s keeps an eye toward the future. Payton expected growing pains this fall, breaking in so many new players, and mounting injuries have only added to the challenge. The young Cadets (4-4-1) will enter the WCAC tournament at the end of the month as the defending champions, even though most never saw the field during last season’s playoff run.

St. John’s had all the ingredients for a special run already in place when Payton — an All-Met forward at Magruder in 1992 —took over for Colin Lennon before last season. The Cadets went on to win 11 games and knock off Bishop Ireton, 1-0, in the WCAC tournament final on a goal by Shannon Collins, who now plays at the University of Maryland.

Payton, 38, had his professional playing career ended when he broke his neck in a preseason scrimmage with the now-defunct Tampa Bay Mutiny of Major League Soccer. He turned to coaching and spent the next decade at the club level before joining the Cadets.

Payton had logged time as a volunteer high school assistant, but he has relished the opportunity to build a program in his own way with a new crop of players.

The season hasn’t been easy for the Cadets. Four expected starters have missed every game, including Virginia Tech-bound senior Katherine Colevas, forcing Payton to get creative with his lineup at times. The coach planned on Colevas anchoring the defense until she tore her ACL late in the summer, and the other returning starter in the back, senior Liz Parks, has struggled with a nagging hamstring injury.

The current varsity roster features four freshmen and several transfers, including sophomore Samantha Scaffidi. Formerly at Paint Branch, Scaffidi has emerged as the team’s leading scorer with three goals and six assists.

While Payton readily calls this a “rebuilding year,” he’s already sure what the finished product should look like.

“You don’t come into the program trying to win one title and then sit back and let somebody else win it for three or four years,” Payton said. “We want to be able to compete for the title every year, but it’s going to take some time to get there.”

The Post Top 10

Since grinding out a scoreless tie at Good Counsel on Sept. 26, Spalding has lost three of its last five games. The team’s defense remains its strength as junior goalie Cassidy Babin — a recent Massachusetts commit — has not allowed more than one goal in any game this season. Sophomore Jennifer Voyton had a goal and two assists as River Hill beat Centennial, 5-0, on Tuesday. The Hawks have won all 13 of their games by at least two goals.

(Records through Tuesday)

1. Good Counsel (9-1-2) Last week: 1

2. Holy Cross (10-0-1) LW: 4

3. O’Connell (10-1-2) LW: 3

4. River Hill (13-0) LW: 5

5. Spalding (7-3-3) LW: 2

6. Sidwell Friends (9-2) LW: 6

7. National Cathedral (8-1-2) LW: 7

8. Arundel (13-0) LW: 10

9. Bethesda-Chevy Chase (9-1) LW: 9

10. South River (11-2) LW: 8