Durango girls soccer shook one of two large monkeys off its back with a Southwestern League win last week. On Wednesday, they'll get a chance to wash the other off in the Animas River which flows adjacent to the field.
After rattling off 10 wins in their last 11 games, the Demons grabbed the No. 9 seed in the Class 4A girls soccer state tournament and will face No. 24 Canon City at home in the first round.
This is the highest the Demons have been seeded in more than a decade.
"We talk about the aspect of pressure and how it's a privilege," Durango coach Dalon Parker said. "It's not something we should be afraid of, it's something we should hone in on and use it for our advantage. That's our postseason motto: pressure is a privilege."
Durango is in a position that has been unforgiving for the team in recent history.
In its last eight playoff appearances, Durango was upset in the first round by a lower seed five times. In two of the remaining three appearances, the Demons lost in the first round to a higher seed.
"We got together and had a meeting as seniors at the beginning of the year, and it was kind of like, 'This is our last hurrah, we should give it everything we have,'" senior Peyton Floyd said. "We need to make sure that everyone is on the same page with that. Having that mentality and seriousness at the beginning of the season really brought the team close.
"It's nice to know that our hard work from the past four years is starting to pay off when it matters most."
The lone time Durango made it out of the first round in those recent appearances was a 2-1 win over Rampart in 2008.
Durango lost in the second round that year, but this year's team has snubbed its nose at history once already.
The Demons sound confident that this year won't end in another first-round disappointment.
"I think we have great fitness, but what's bigger than that is our will to want to play for eachother," Floyd said. "I think the way that we'll make it past the first round is just having the will to play for each other."
And they have good reason.
"I think our shape is our strength. Shape is what's important for us, it's scoring us goals and keeping teams off the scoreboard. It's what's helping us compete," Parker said. "Soccer-wise, it always falls back to our shape. We've been really tough to break down. We make sure that we all stick together, compete together and not listen to what's going on around us."
Durango won the Southwestern League after a five-year drought. How they did it is even sweeter than quenching that thirst.
After Durango took second place to Fruita Monument last year on goal differential, Durango flipped the script this year and won the Southwestern League on goal differential — over Fruita Monument.
"Oh it's so sweet. So sweet. Last year, we actually went into one of our last games of the year knowing how many goals we needed and we actually missed the last goal to win league," Parker said. "I think we either hit the post or something happened, but we ended up missing the last goal.
"This year, we needed to win league. It feels good to get them back. Alex is a really good guy over there — he started laughing as soon as our game was over. He said, 'Congratulations, you just won league.'"
Durango is here by trusting the process — and each other.
"More than anything, more than success, I want it to be more about family," Peyton Floyd said. "Coming in my freshman year not really knowing anyone, the girls took me in. They became my best friends and I think that's such a powerful thing."
Parker joked about his method for success.
"You bump your head against a lot of walls. You pray that the kids buy in. You pray that the parents stay out of the way," Parker said with a laugh. "That's the three methods that we used out here."
They've grown a family on the pitch and are ready to leave a legacy in the Durango community.
"Our main goal as seniors is to leave a legacy. I think we've set a great tone for the players under us," Floyd said. "We want the freshmen coming in next year to know where the work level is at. This year, we raised the bar really high and I hope it stays. I think that's the legacy we ultimately want to leave. Family and work ethic."
It's something that's been brewing for a while in Durango. Parker said some players have been playing together since about the age of five.
"We're such a small town, so it's homegrown," Parker said. "I'm dealing with homegrown talent, where in some parts around the state, the kids are pulled from all different clubs. You hope the kids buy in, you get good leadership from your seniors, and you just have to hope."
Senior Lane Arnwine talked about team pride and work ethic that the Durango program is built on.
"Being a hard working team is special. It's really cool to stand for," Arnwine said. "Yeah, we're from a tiny town in Durango, we have to travel over the mountains to go play or whatever, but we work hard. It's really a big deal and something we pride ourselves on."
The hard work got the Demons this far and they're ready for the opportunity.
"I think it's pretty big for us. We haven't had that type of success in a long time as you can tell," Parker said. "We've been beating around the bush for a while. Now that we finally got there, it brings a lot of confidence going forward to the postseason."
This gritty group of seniors have been through disappointment time and time again, and they're determined to reverse fortunes.