It is a long road to the state finals. For the Robinson High flag football team, the Lady Knights, it meant dozens of demanding practices, intense workouts and defeating 18 opponents.
Last year, after two disappointing quarterfinal losses, the Lady Knights came out on top as the state champions of their division.
The moment the clock ran out, the scoreboard at 7-6, the team members could not contain their excitement. Not only had they played 19 games, but they had won 19.
For head coach Josh Saunders, however, that moment meant much more than a season's worth of dedication. After 10 years devoted to building up the team, "it was a validation of many years of hard work and developing a program from scratch," Saunders said.
Almost a year later, the Knights are back at it, this time with one specific goal on all of their minds: getting back.
Robinson High senior Amanda Chromiak has devoted her high school career to the flag football program. Her commitment dates back to even before her freshman year, playing on an AAU team the summer after eighth grade.
This season marks Chromiak's third on varsity and second as team captain. Last year, she was chosen, along with two seniors, to lead the team.
"It was nice knowing that my effort and dedication and hard work were seen by other players on the field, and especially the other captains when they ended up choosing me," Chromiak said.
As the only returning captain, Chromiak knows all too well the pressure facing the team this season. "Last year I wasn't the senior captain," Chromiak said. "Now this year, a lot of the responsibility is put on me because Coach Saunders comes to me."
Although Chromiak is excited to take the team back to a state title, the thought of the alternative outcome is intimidating. "It's terrifying. It's so scary just the fact that we did it once and everyone expects us to be able to do it again."
As Saunders sees it, the pressure comes not from anyone else, but from the players' drives to succeed.
"We talked last year about how rare it is to be the best at something," Saunders said. "I think that team last year and this team this year have that desire to be the best, and that's what motivates them. They see the opportunity. They know that they can be the best at something. And it drives them."
That motivation can be seen daily at practice. Every drill and scrimmage is approached with the same intensity as a playoff game.
"When we're playing, everyone is competitive. Everyone wants to get better and we don't really care that we're just playing against ourselves. We play like it's our last game," Chromiak said.
"One of the best things that prepares us to play against high level competition is that we play ourselves pretty intensely every day at practice," Saunders said. "We won't face a lot of opponents that are going to be better than the group that we have out there at practice."
For the past two years, the team has summed up their goals in a season motto. Last year's phrase was "Play 19".
"Our whole purpose was to play 19 games. If we played 19 games, that meant we were in the state finals, and we had a chance to win the state championship. Anything can happen in any game, so the goal for us was to get to the 19th game, and then see what happened," Saunders said.
This year, the hashtag #getback is posted all over the team's Twitter and Instagram accounts.
"It's us setting a goal," Chromiak said. "Because this year we need to get back, we need to get back to where we were."
Staring down another surely challenging yet rewarding season, Saunders remains optimistic. "We want to make sure that we get ourselves an opportunity to defend what we won last year," he said. "And if we get back to that spot, we like our chances."