If Denver East girls lacrosse coach Mallory Cleveland could have her players take one thing away from this season, it's a love of the game.
"I'm just trying to get that love of the game across and make sure that they're leaders on and off the field," Cleveland said. "Building that drive to want to succeed, but learning how to accomplish the baby steps to get to what the end goal is."
Well, a championship would be good cherry on top.
Since Denver East lost in the 2010 championship to Cherry Creek, the Angels have not made it past the quarterfinals save for a 2015 final four appearance.
This year, Cleveland wants to change that.
"(Co-coach Chris Romer) and I have been a part of this program for four years," Cleveland said. "It's been really fun because our seniors have been with us since the first year and they've really taken a big role in helping to grow the program and bring a new level of passion and commitment to East lacrosse."
This team is the first group of seniors that Cleveland and Romer have coached all four years, so it is the brain child coming to fruition for the two coaches.
It's only natural that Cleveland chose three of her seniors as the difference makers this season.
"I would say the Hermann twins have been extremely consistent throughout the whole season. They have so much passion and lacrosse IQ that they've done a great job of helping to bring the team into their own," Cleveland said. "Lily (Hermann) on the attack side, Thyra (Hermann) in the midfield and Maddie Wells on the defensive side. (Wells) is another senior captain who is just an incredible player with so much passion and talent.
"The three of them together make us go."
Denver East sits on top of the Metro League with a 6-0 record and can clinch the league title with a win against No. 1 Colorado Academy on Friday.
"It's huge, it's a fun game for us. It's a league game and it's always been a rival of ours," Cleveland said. "It's also fun because a lot of the girls on their team and our team play on club teams together, so the girls have a great time playing against their friends.
"It's an all-around great game to challenge ourselves and play at a higher level."
Colorado Academy sits just under Denver East with a 4-0 record.
What makes this Denver East team so dangerous isn't the balanced scoring led by Kate Burney's 36 points and Lucy McHugh's 24 goals, the 19 other different goal scorers and the four with 20-plus goals.
"I would say everywhere on the field is a strength. All over the field, they're extremely strong, so it's nice to be balanced and be able to run our own game on both defense and offense," Cleveland said. "I think the girls have really worked hard to grow our offense this year."
No, something much scarier.
This Angels team is experienced.
Denver East has six seniors and nine juniors. Sprinkle in the freshmen duo of the McHugh twins (Lucy, Tess) and you have a recipe for success.
"We've taken a strong approach of staying focused and staying confident," Cleveland said. "It's helped to know what the end goal is, but instead of focusing on that end goal, we're just looking at the baby steps so that we can accomplish it."
The Angels have also seen top competition this season. After the March 5 game against Chaparral, Denver East will have played six of the nine other teams in the CHSAANow.com rankings from this week.
"With our scheduling, I always try to schedule the toughest games that we can," Cleveland said. "It's better to learn from tough wins and losses and to grow from that. I would prefer to have a challenging schedule so that once we get into playoffs, we are more prepared."
The only top teams that haven't seen Denver East are ThunderRidge, Palmer Ridge and Dakota Ridge.
But the Angels could care less who they see on the schedule, they treat each and every game like it's the most important game of the season.
"Every game, we come in and we don't want to think about who we're playing necessarily," the Denver East senior captions said. "We want to think that every game is going to be the toughest playoff game that we're going to play. With that attitude, we can come out with the most intensity and most passion."
Cleveland has Denver East ready to compete for a championship, and they're loving the game along the way.