ENGLEWOOD, Tenn. - The McMinn Central girls' soccer team set three primary goals coming into the 2012 season. One of them - to win the District 5-A/AA regular-season championship - the Chargerettes accomplished with a 6-0 record.
The other two top goals are getting to the state tournament and winning it, and that involves a difficult road in the toughest section in the state.
Yet the road ahead pales in comparison to the journey they've traveled the past eight months.
The Chargerettes had some devastating news in February when team member Morgan Johnson committed suicide. It was a tough time for them, but they had a patch made with the initials "MEJ19" that each player wears on her sleeve.
Johnson would have been one of 10 seniors for the Chargerettes.
"It was very important to keep her as a part of the team," senior captain Elizabeth Wells said. "We've all played together for years, so doing something for her was important to us."
Coach Bill McConkey said the patch was the team's decision.
"I didn't have as much to do with it as they did," he said. "When they talked about the patch as a dedication, I told them they'd have to step up and play each minute for her. They've taken that to heart, but it was their idea -- not mine."
At 13-3 overall, McMinn Central has found ways to win, regardless of the circumstances. The Chargerettes rode a 12-game win streak until a loss in the regular-season finale to Cleveland, and all three of their losses -- the others were to Powell and Science Hill -- were to AAA opponents.
They have played only three matches on their home surface, and they lost senior defender Moriah Giles to an injury the first week of the season. The team's second-leading scorer, freshman Jessi Young, currently is out with an injury as well.
McMinn Central won the Cherokee Classic by defeating region foe Arts & Sciences and AAA opponents Halls and Cookeville in pool play before stunning rival McMinn County in the final.
The Chargerettes now want to return to the state event and give a better showing than in the program's first trip in 2010, when they lost 3-0 to eventual state runner-up Christian Academy of Knoxville.
To get another chance, they'll have to get through Grace Academy, Silverdale Baptist Academy and Boyd-Buchanan in the district tournament and someone from the group of East Hamilton, East Ridge, Hixson and Arts & Sciences in region play. Chattanooga Christian, Notre Dame and Signal Mountain -- all ranked programs -- lurk as possible sectional foes.
"I want to get back to the state tournament and compete this time," Wells said. "I don't think we were ready for that level of competition last time we were there. We had a lot of inexperience and didn't expect that level of play, but I think that if we get there this time, we'll be ready."