Dont misunderstand the Columbus girls soccer team. Wednesdays semifinals match against Veterans High (7 p.m. at Perry High School) is a big deal.
They know it will be a challenge and that a single mental mistake can abruptly end their playoff run.
But the Lady Blue Devils have already made it to the state championship in consecutive seasons. The state semifinals are a hurdle theyve already cleared in the past, so this years edition is a means to an end to try and reach the ultimate prize.
I think weve plateaued, coach Rusty Oliver said. Dont get me wrong, its a great plateau to be at. But until we win a state championship, we wont get the full respect. Were not looking past Wednesday, but we have a big goal we want to achieve on Saturday.
There are a hundred teams that are happy just being there. Were not one of them. We want to finish it off.
Before Columbus can focus on the enormous elephant in the room Marist, which has won every postseason match 10-0 so far and is the heavy favorite in its semifinal against Alexander it must get through Veterans. Its a rematch of last seasons semifinals, which Columbus won 1-0. The Lady Blue Devils also came back from a 3-0 deficit to beat Veterans 4-3 during the 2013 regular season.
Senior Mallory Lotz and junior Lane Burbrink said they and their teammates were already hearing from Veterans players leading up to the contest.
Theyve already been posting on Facebook, you know, that its going to be different this year, Lotz said. They can talk, but it just matters how we play. Its motivation, too. We want to beat them more because theyre talking so much about it. It energizes us.
Theyre out for revenge, Burbrink said. Were out to prove were better. We already know we are, we just have to prove it again.
Despite the confident talk, which understandably comes with back-to-back wins against Veterans and an 18-1-1 record this year, the girls said they understood the challenge.
Were definitely not taking it lightly, Lotz said. Theyve made it this far two years in a row, too. Theyre obviously a good side. At the same time, we know were good enough to win.
They have a great defense, Oliver elaborated. One mental mistake can cost us everything. The fact that weve been here, we know what one game or a few minutes or one mental mistake can do. Our season can be over. And then wed never know what we could do against Marist. There would be a lot of what-ifs.
So, what does it take?
Composure, Lotz said.
And depth. And experience. Columbus has all three.
They have a strong defense and strong forwards, Oliver said. I dont think theyre as balanced as we are, though. Theyre similar to us in that they like to attack out of the back, but I think our balance across the board gives us an advantage.
In years past, Id need a sub and have to hide them on the field. This year I can put in a sub and theres not much of a dropoff.
Despite being stuck on the plateau, as Oliver described it, a win in this game would be significant for Columbus tradition.
It would mean a third straight trip to the state final and a likely crack at a rematch against Marist, which won state 5-0 a year ago. It would be the first time a class at Columbus has played in three championship games, and it would give this years junior class and opportunity to go all four years in 2015.
Its more motivation, said Burbrink, a junior. We talk about it all the time. We want to be the class that goes all four years. We dont know what its like to lose except for the state championship.
We dont want to know.