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Herndon boys’ soccer forward Patrick McLaughlin has one goal he’d like to accomplish before leaving the school for Radford University’s soccer team next year — match his brother Christian’s accomplishments for the Hornets.

In 2008, Christian McLaughlin helped lead Herndon to a Concorde District soccer title, and last year it appeared Patrick would be well on his way to doing the same.

“He only won a district title,” McLaughlin said. “I’d like to win a district and a region title and win it before him, since it was my junior [season] last year.”

Unfortunately for McLaughlin, the Hornets fell short despite an undefeated regular season.

Just as the team was reaching its peak, injuries piled up and in the Concorde District tournament Herndon was upset by Oakton, 3-0. A week later in the Northern Region tournament, the Hornets’ season ended with a 1-0 loss to West Springfield.

“It left a terrible taste in my mouth,” McLaughlin said. “We should have won districts and regionals last year, but it didn’t happen.”

Now, just two games into the 2012 season, McLaughlin said the team’s focus has completely changed from last year. Instead of shooting for an undefeated season and domination, the emphasis is being placed on staying healthy and learning from each game.

“There was excitement last season that we hadn’t been beaten,” coach Sean Lanigan said. “Now they see that it doesn’t really matter. The players don’t really care about being undefeated.”

Herndon’s change in mindset already is beginning to show. The Hornets opened the season with a lopsided 7-1 win against Broad Run capped by a five-goal performance by McLaughlin.

A 7-1 win might skyrocket the egos of any team, but the Hornets remain humble. In the following game against Thomas Jefferson on Monday night, Herndon left with a 1-1 tie and a reminder the regular season only means so much this time around.

“We need to learn that we’re not invincible,” McGlaughlin said. “Last year we kind of felt that way, being undefeated. This year we won’t get down on ourselves for a loss in the regular season.”

“Even though Thomas Jefferson tied us, in the big picture it’s not that big,” Lanigan said. “We went into a hostile environment and we’re just going to have to do better.”

A changed mindset only is one difference between last year’s undefeated regular season team and the 2012 edition. Last year, McLaughlin was the team’s engine, but Lanigan said additional scoring help from senior E.K. Korvah should be a boon for the team.

“We’ve been playing together since we were 6 or 7 years old,” Korvah said. “We know what we’re doing, so we act much quicker. The defenses have trouble responding to that.”

Although the team talks about keeping the focus on staying healthy, learning and keeping fresh for May’s postseason, the Hornets still are one of the area’s top teams and could repeat their undefeated regular season feat again.

At practice on Tuesday, on the eve of a Wednesday night clash with rival South Lakes, the team appeared confident and unshaken by a close game with Thomas Jefferson, but that doesn’t mean the Hornets are slacking off.

A title is the main goal and anything less will disappoint this year’s team.

“It’s not that relaxed because we want to get a title,” Korvah said. “We want to be composed when that time comes, but at least this season we know that we’re not invincible because mistakes will happen.”

ralbers@fairfaxtimes.com