To be the best, Collinsville will have to beat the best.
The Kahoks (17-6) will play defending Class 3A state champion Naperville North (19-0-2) at 5 p.m. Tuesday in the Normal Super-Sectional. On the same field last year, the Huskies ended Collinsville's season with a 4-1 victory.
"The girls are fired up and they're ready to go. That's the most important thing," Kahoks coach Clay Smith said. "They just have to come out and be prepared and ready to play. They have that loss from last year in the back of our heads. That helps as well."
The winner will advance to the state tournament, scheduled for Friday and Saturday at North Central College in Naperville.
Naperville North senior forward Zoe Swift, a Kentucky recruit, scored two goals -- one on a header --against the Kahoks last season and again will be the focus of Collinsville's defense.
"They didn't lose a whole lot from last year," Smith said. "They've still got Zoe Swift up top, who's phenomenal. And they have a good sophomore up with her, Abby Boswell, who's a tremendous player.
"They're just, all-around, a very good soccer team. They're very direct. They try to get that ball to Zoe's foot as much as they can, which is a pretty smart thing to do. They try to get it up to their front two and get something going to goal."
The 5-foot-10-Swift, who last week was recognized as the Gatorade Player of the Year in Illinois, has 15 goals despite missing seven games with an ankle injury. Boswell has 27 goals and Smith described her as being "just as lethal" as Swift. Another player, senior Christa Szalach, has signed with Purdue.
Collinsville is familiar with facing quality scorers this season, but Swift could be a notch above the others.
"The thing that makes her so special, in my opinion, is how she creates opportunities off the ball," Smith said. "There's just no quit in her. She's very smart tactically on the field. She knows how to be in the right place at the right time. That poses some problems, and that's what she did to us last year. We'll have to be aware of that."
The Kahoks are more experienced on defense this season with seniors Kassidy Rawdon, Brooke Blasingame and Alexis Arnold, and junior Matty Merlak. Junior Holly Bluemner has been solid in goal in her first season as a starter.
Rawdon (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville) and Blasingame (Missouri State) are Division I signees, while Arnold has signed with Division II Maryville.
"Our back four, they're going to have their hands full," Smith said. "But they've had their hands full all year and they've done a tremendous job. If they bear down and play to their capabilities, I think we'll be OK."
On offense, seniors Kat Roe (23 goals, 12 assists) and Alyssa Reiniger (14 goals, 11 assists) and sophomores Mikayla McCarthy (20 goals, four assists) and Sophie Sharos (seven goals, seven assists) can stretch any defense.
Roe has scored a goal in nine consecutive postseason games, including the game-winner Friday in a 2-1 decision over Normal in the title game of the Collinsville Sectional.
"Somehow, some way, she finds a way to be the hero and get things done," Smith said of Roe
It will be the Kahoks' first game on grass in the postseason. Collinsville prepared by practicing on a natural surface Monday.
"Both teams will have to make the adjustment," Smith said.
Smith said the Kahoks' experience can't be minimized.
"Last year, we were very much intimidated coming off the bus, from all the things we had heard about them," he said. "This year, we know we have a little more going in our favor. We're a little better and we're playing more confident.
"There's the revenge factor as well. The girls didn't take that loss lightly last year. They're definitely hungry, and they want to be playing this weekend in Naperville. I think they'll come out with a little chip on their shoulders. But it's got to be an 80-minute match."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2665.