All six Gilbert Highland seniors on this year's girls soccer team have played four years of varsity soccer.
They haven't played a state championship match, which is where the Hawks seemed headed last season.
Highland was the only Arizona school to beat eventual 5A Division I champion Phoenix Xavier. The Hawks won 19 games, including the Fiesta Bowl tournament and the Dobson Classic in December.
They were a No. 5 seed going into the tournament, but, like No. 1 seed Gilbert, the Hawks left before their time.
After a 2-0 win against Mesa Dobson, state runner-up Phoenix Desert Vista came for the quarterfinals, and the Hawks' fourth loss of the season was also its fourth shutout.
"To be honest they almost got used to winning and almost expected it, and stopped worrying about the little things," Highland coach John Berzins said. "We had such a great run through the year and anticipated that's how it was going to be for state."
With Xavier the favorite again - eight starters return for Barb Chura's Gators - and Desert Vista's superb junior class expected to anchor the Thunder, Highland and Gilbert both find themselves in the thick of an open competition.
Similar to the boys, Phoenix Pinnacle and Scottsdale schools Desert Mountain, Horizon and Chaparral will make noise in 5A Division II, while Scottsdale Notre Dame has eight starters back in an effort to repeat as 4A-II champion.
That's the same position the Hawks, Tigers, Thunder, and other big schools would like to be in a year from now.
"The historically strong schools definitely have the potential to go all the way," Berzins said. "We've been to semifinals and won tournaments, but now they want the big prize, and that's the big one at the end."
TEAMS TO WATCH
Xavier: Defending 5A-I champion has eight starters back, starting with the player of the year, goalkeeper Annie Graham, and midfielder Sam Cummings.
Highland: The Hawks were the only Arizona team to beat Xavier last season and return eight starters on a team that won 19 matches and two December tournaments.
Hamilton: Depth and offensive firepower will make Fiesta Region a juggernaut with Xavier, Desert Vista, Hamilton, and Red Mountain.
Gilbert: Ranked No. 1 most of last season despite injuries, the Tigers pledge that an early tournament exit won't happen again.
Desert Vista: Lost a few dynamic seniors from state runner-up team, but the Thunder could have the best junior class in the state.
Pinnacle: Kacey Bingham brings her experience at Maricopa Community College to the Pioneers for another clash with Horizon and Desert Mountain in 5A-II.
Notre Dame: Eight regulars return from last year's 4A-II championship run, which featured three penalty-kick victories.
5 PLAYERS TO WATCH
Hilary Zenuk, Highland, Sr., F: Had 14 goals and a school-record 33 assists last season and will add on to her 73 career assists mark (also a school record).
Annie Graham, Xavier, Sr., G: Tribune player of the year last season had 18 shutouts and allowed six goals to Arizona schools.
McKenzie Semerad, Desert Vista, Jr., MF: Moves up from back end and could shine in the middle after being behind All-State players the previous two seasons.
Megan Strieldel, Red Mountain, Sr., F: Will miss the first month because of injury, but if she comes back healthy and the Lions find offensive help in the interim, watch out.
Natalie Kintz, Horizon, Sr., G: Could be the best goalie in state in 5A-II, and she might need to be with six seniors lost to graduation.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH
Blair Alderson, Gilbert, Sr., MF; Lauren Barrett, McClintock, Sr., D; Melissa Beck, Basha, Sr., F; Janelle Brandom, Desert Mountain, Sr., MF; Gina Buschatzke, Mountain Pointe, Sr., D; Amy Capone, Saguaro, Sr., D; Sam Cummings, Xavier, Sr., MF; Jorday Day, Basha, Jr., GK; Alex Doller, Marcos de Niza, Jr., F; Hannah Drew, McClintock, Sr., G; Devin Garcia, Basha, Sr., F; Brittany Groh, Desert Mountain, Sr., F; Jordan Greenberg, Desert Mountain, Jr., MF; Sarah Hanson, Westwood, Jr., MF; Hailey Hayes, Corona del Sol, Sr., G; Jessica Johnson, Corona del Sol, Sr., D; Ariel Gnazzo-Kerry, Red Mountain, Sr., MF; Natalie Kintz, Horizon, Sr., G; Nicole Krueger, Horizon, Jr., F; Erica Lieberman, Arcadia, Sr., D; Clarissa Lopez, Westwood, Jr., D; Ashton Mariano, Red Mountain, Sr., D; Jenna Merrill, Chaparral, Sr., MF; Cadie Naquin, Notre Dame, So., D; Ena Nielsen, Westwood, Sr., MF; Annie Newell, Horizon, Sr., F; Tori Papp, Corona del Sol, Sr., MF; Jordan Pletzer, Mesquite, Sr., MF; Sam Rall, Desert Vista, Sr., F; Taylor Rice, Mesquite, Jr., G; Tara Rickenbach, Mesquite, Sr., MF; Kelly Rising, Chaparral, Sr., F; Mattie Rodrigue, Dobson, Sr., D; Megan Rush, Seton Catholic, Sr., D; Dulce Segura, McClintock, Jr., D; McKenzie Semerad, Desert Vista, Jr., MF; Catie Service, Red Mountain, Sr., D; Juliet Summers-Hernandez, Pinnacle, Sr., MF; Maddie Thorn, Arcadia, Jr., MF; Karla Varela, Arcadia, Sr., F; Kaitlyn Venberg, Jr., MF; Julia Waterhouse, Desert Vista, Jr., D; Madyson Wellcome, Hamilton, Sr., D; Kaelin Williams, Mesquite, Sr., MF; Kaitlyn Woltz, Tempe Prep, So., MF; Katie Woolridge, Fountain Hills, Jr., GK.
DID YOU KNOW?
Zero degrees of separation: Matt Smith is the longtime coach at Corona del Sol. His brother Scott and former assistant Kevin Chavez are now at Mesquite. Dobson coach Greg Johnson is married to Basha coach Heather Johnson, both of whom were in Smith's wedding when he married Corona del Sol assistant Patti Smith. Matt, Scott, Greg, Heather and Highland coach John Berzins are all Mesa Dobson graduates.
Horizon sophomore Megan Oleno is back playing this season after she was diagnosed with cancer. Oleno spent 2008 and a portion of 2009 going through chemotherapy and hasn't played competitively since 2007.
Dec. 7-11: Tempe Diablos Tournament
Dec. 18-22: Mesa Jackrabbit Invitational
Dec. 28-Jan 2: Mustang Invitational
Feb. 3: State tournaments begin
Feb. 12: 4A-II state championship
Feb. 13: 5A-I/5A-II/4A-I/1A-2A-3A state championships