It's a good thing that Notre Dame junior defender Courtney Boyd and the rest of the Lady Irish soccer team are no strangers to state tournaments. There's certainly a lot of unknown lying ahead of them.
For the first time, the Lady Irish won't be playing the state in Chattanooga, as the event has moved to Murfreesboro.
And then there's their opponent, which nobody seems to know much about.
The fourth-ranked Lady Irish will play a Class A/AA state quarterfinal against Jackson's Liberty Tech (10-8-1), which qualified for the state tournament with a 4-3 penalty-kick advance past Dyersburg in the sectional round. That game is set for 3:30 p.m. EDT today at the Richard Siegel Soccer Complex.
"We do have to enter with that not-knowing factor," Notre Dame coach Jim Schermerhorn said Monday. "I can't find out much about them. I just know that they had to beat some decent teams to get here."
Chattanooga Christian, the only other area team to qualify for the tournament, faces Christian Academy of Knoxville at 6:30 p.m. CCS's Lady Chargers advanced to last season's semifinals, where they fell to eventual champion Christ Presbyterian Academy.
The last West Tennessee girls' soccer team to win a state-tournament match was the University School of Jackson in 2006, but that doesn't mean anybody from Notre Dame is overlooking the Lady Crusaders, who are making their second consecutive state tournament trip. The Lady Irish lost 2-1 to White House in the 2012 quarterfinals.
"We just had a lack of leadership last season, a lot of nerves, and we didn't execute," Boyd said. "Obviously, it cost us."
The Lady Irish's motto this season reflects a determination not to overlook anyone: "Respect all. Fear none."
Boyd made the transition from right back to center back before the season started. She became a starter from day one her freshman season because of her versatility, so the minor change in position wasn't a big deal to her.
"She was a no-brainer to start as a freshman because she's right-footed but can kick well with her left foot, so we slotted her into that position right away," Schermerhorn said. "She's always been solid. She's really hard to beat and matches up well, even with bigger players."
The focus now is on Liberty. Teams that might have been perceived to be "weaker" have posed problems for the Lady Irish recently, but Boyd doesn't think that'll be an issue this afternoon, even as they enter among the favorites, along with Knoxville Catholic -- Notre Dame's opponent should both win Wednesday -- CPA, CCS and CAK.
"We have a lot of players that are clutch when they need to be. We have 'stage' players," Boyd said. "We're going in expecting to be good. Right now, I'm a mix of nervous and excited, because we definitely have a chance to win it, even though we're a young team.
"As Coach said, this is what we've worked for all year."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.