Fossil Ridge softball has been there: on the verge of capping their season with a win only to taste defeat again.
Four years in a row, the Sabercats found themselves one win away from a Class 5A state title game. Only once were they able to break into the championship game.
"Somehow, we've got to break through here," Fossil Ridge coach Dave Philop said. "I don't know if it'll be this year or next year or if it'll ever happen. You just never know It's a what have you done for me lately kind of game.
"That's all done and over with and doesn't mean anything anymore if we don't come out ready to play this year."
Fossil Ridge did make one title game over that span, in 2014, but fell short to Grandview.
"We've tasted it as coaches and as players," Philop said. "Even the ones that had a different role, they've been there before. It's their turn, and they're ready to go. They're ready to take off and do something with it."
Rheanna Will tasted three of those shortcomings. She started as a freshman in that championship game against Grandview.
"There's the one person who's been in that state hunt," Philop said of Will. "All three years, she's been there. She's got the experience that we're really going to be counting on as a leader this year. You've got to have that senior leadership."
In her senior year, Will is embracing this season.
"It's going to be tough, it's going to be a tough run, because of losing those three and these freshman coming in," Will said. "We need to put more focus in and work harder. Last year we didn't really work out or put our minds to what we needed to do to get that far, so this year I think we're going to focus more on our athletic ability."
Now, Philop's squad has three big holes to fill. Two of those were expected with Megan Jamison and Grace Philop graduating.
Jamison posted an 8-3 record as a pitcher for the Sabercats.
The third hole could be the biggest with Landyn Bruce moving to California.
"We have some girls that will hopefully come up and fill those spots," Will said. "We're hoping those younger girls will get the taste of what it feels like to be on a higher standard team. I'm not going to set super high standards on us because we did lose those players, and they were a pretty big part of our team."
Bruce, an Ole Miss commit, hit .432 with 25 runs batted in. On the mound, Bruce went 10-3 with a 3.14 earned run average.
Between Jamison and Bruce, Fossil Ridge lost just under 150 innings.
"We've got a lot of kids back," Philop said. "We hope that's going to make a difference. I think it has over the last several years."
Fossil Ridge plans to fill that void with Jordan Ellis shouldering the brunt of the pitching load. Ellis (1-0, 0.95 ERA) appeared in four games last season.
"The pitching piece is going to be interesting," Philop said. "Fortunately, we've got some throwers in the program. (Ellis) has definitely been a big part of our program and had opportunities. When she's had those opportunities, she's done extremely well. She really wants it bad."
At the plate, Will could take on some of the lost production. She had 27 runs batted in and nine homeruns.
"(Will) is just a really athletic kid," Philop said. "She runs well, hits the ball well. She hits the ball out of the park and hits for average. She's been a fixture in our lineup; she's hit in the four or five hole the whole time she's been here."
Will also steps into a big leadership role for a Fossil Ridge team with just three seniors.
"The other seniors and I gathered everybody together to tell them how our past seasons have gone and how we need to have even more of a focus this year than we did last year," Will said. "I'm trying to get us to all have the same motivation and the same outlook on how we want our season to be."
But, Philop has built a culture at Fossil Ridge that has the new crop of freshmen ready come in and contribute.
"The kids are coming in with a culture," Philop said. "We talk about getting better every day and being focused. We believe in what we're doing and try to control what we can control. It's not said, it's expected that we can be good. And we should be good. If we're not, then it's our fault.
"Enough is enough. It's a question of when we're going to break through."
Will believes the freshmen will be big additions to the lineup.
"We had our first day of camp today and we have some freshman that are looking pretty good," Will said. "We're going to try to move many girls around to see what other positions they can play so we can get those freshman in."
Philop breaks the season into three pieces: Preseason, midseason and where his team is at going into the postseason.
"That's helped to break it down into little sections. As you get into it, you're not overwhelmed," Philop said. "We want to be in a situation where we're playing well at the end of the season.
"You don't catch anybody off guard anymore, either. You've got to be ready to play every time out."
Will touched on the culture around Fossil Ridge and her expectations for this year.
"Having that higher standard put on us from the older girls from years before motivated us to do as best as we can and work against what other people thought," Will said. "Most people think that we're going to be the underdogs this year and that we're not going to be as good as we have the past three years, but I feel like we're going to come back strong."
- Regular season begins: Aug. 14
- Regional tournaments: Oct. 14
- 5A/4A/3A: Oct. 20-21, Aurora Sports Park, Aurora, Colo.
Returning all-state players:
- First team: Rachel Sabourin, Eaglecrest, Jr.; Rheanna Will, Fossil Ridge, Sr.
- Second team: Aubrea Leikam, Cherry Creek, 2B, Sr.; Alyssa Pinto, Cherokee Trail, OF, Sr.
- First team: Jade Garbiso, Pueblo West, P/OF/SS, Sr.; Alexandria Kilponen, Valor Christian, P/1B, Sr.; Jetta Nannen, Silver Creek, P/1B/3B, Jr.; Taylor Puga, Pueblo Central, P/1B, Sr.
- Second team: Hannah Hackney, Erie, Sr.; Sevi Harden, Thomas Jefferson, 1B/C/OF, Sr.; Makayla Keck, Pueblo South, P/1B, Jr.; Mikayla Marquez, Kennedy, Sr.
- First team: Kamryn Leoffler, Brush, Jr.; Priscilla Lozoya, Valley, Sr.; Dakota Stotyn, Strasburg, P/3B, Sr.
- Second team: Morgan Brantmeyer, Peak to Peak, C/OF, Sr.; Jolene Carrica, Rocky Ford, C/3B/2B, Sr.; McKenzie Connor, Faith Christian, P/1B, Jr.; Cordelia Hanger, The Academy, P/INF, So.; Lexi Smith, La Junta, P/SS, Sr.