Back in September, the four-time defending national champion Lee University women's soccer team began its final season of NAIA play against Northwood in Florida.
The Lady Flames face the same team Monday as they begin their last run for a championship in Orange Beach, Ala. They meet at 5 p.m. EST in the round of 16.
Despite Lee's No. 1 ranking, 18-1-1 record and especially good play of late, coach Matt Yelton says Northwood is very capable of ending the same season it started. The Lady Flames won 6-1 in that first meeting, but that score is misleading.
"It was not a 6-1 game," Yelton said before the Lady Flames drove Saturday to the Alabama coast. "The shots were like 11-8. We just had a really good finishing night."
Embry-Riddle gave Lee its lone loss two days later, and Northwood has defeated Embry-Riddle twice this season. Asked if those facts seemed to register with his players, Yelton said, "We showed them the game film from that game, and it was very clear that it could have gone either way. It was a very even game in terms of possession and opportunities, and they have a very good goalkeeper and a dynamic goal scorer.
"They have the components for a long run of their own, and we may get some chances on Monday and not get anything to show for it. I think our girls understand that."
Yelton didn't really seem worried, however. He has said that he thinks this is his most talented team "top to bottom," and he acknowledged that "the last two or three weeks we have really put together some good performances."
Since a 1-1 tie with NCAA Division III top-ranked Emory on Oct. 18, the Lady Flames have outscored their seven opponents 29-2.
For the season, junior Leah Fortune has 15 goals and nine assists and classmates Ode Fulutudilu and Ashley Aragona have 11 and eight goals and 10 and 11 assists. Freshman Christina Bovbjerg has scored seven times.
Yelton likes the Lady Flames' variety of offensive options, but the main reason he feels good about their change to five-peat is the veteran defense. Whether a team is finishing goals well or not, an opponent can't win without scoring.
As senior Clair Lanter from Soddy-Daisy pointed out, the Lady Flames allowed no goals in their five games in last year's national tournament.
"That's a very hard thing to do," Lanter said. "I don't know if that's going to happen again, but that's the goal."
Said Yelton: "We just don't give up a lot of goals when we get to the postseason. The defense is built around five seniors, and they've been fantastic the last three and a half years and they've been very good this year."
Comprising that back pack are Kim Conrad from Murfreesboro and Lanter as central defenders, Caroline Scales from Baylor and Amy Cochran from California on the wings and keeper Leah Wilson from Chattanooga Christian.
"Last year was the same group," Lanter said. "We have eight seniors in all, and we don't want to go out with a loss -- for us or for the school leaving the NAIA -- especially when we've won it all our previous years. If we play like we can play, hopefully we'll keep winning, but if we don't show up to play, we can lose to any team we play from here on out.
"Anyone who is in the national tournament, if you're not having a good game, absolutely they can beat you. We had only one loss this year, and we beat ourselves. But we know Northwood has a revenge factor. They want to redeem themselves for losing 6-1 early in the year.
"We're pretty healthy. Now we just have to have the right mindset to play."
Then came a warning.
"We're going to be ready," Lanter said.