There's nothing Gibault will see at the Class 1A state soccer tournament in Normal that it hasn't seen already.
The Hawks (17-4-4) have been tested by a schedule that has included games against St. Louis University High, Monroe County arch-rival Columbia, Quincy Notre Dame (twice), Edwardsville, Althoff (twice), Collinsville and O'Fallon.
So, yes, Gibault will be ready for its semifinal against Chicago-based F.W. Parker (14-1-6) at 7 p.m. Friday at the Corn Crib.
"We've played teams that are better than this one tomorrow," Hawks coach Matt Reeb said Thursday morning. "We're not scared of any 1A team up there. We feel we can beat any 1A team in the state. We haven't had easy games. ... We've been tested the whole season."
A win Friday would advance Gibault to the championship game at 5 p.m. Saturday against the winner of the other semifinal between Herscher (22-4-1) and Genoa-Kingston (17-6-1).
The Hawks last won the state tournament in 2007, culminating a run of three consecutive Class A titles under former coach Jim Corsi.
Reeb said the Hawks are motivated by their premature exit in the postseason last year. Gibault lost to Marquette 3-2 in the semifinals of the Columbia Sectional, and the Explorers went on to win the 1A state championship.
"That was tough to go down to a team we had beaten twice," Reeb said. "Then to watch them go win state was tough to see, also. ... What happened last year has made us much more resilient. We have a greater hunger, we're fierce and have that desire and understanding of what it takes to figure out how to win and get it done."
Reeb has fostered a one-game-at-a-time approach in the playoffs. But his players had grander ideas than that even before they defeated Quincy Notre Dame 1-0 on penalty kicks Tuesday night at the Collinsville Super-Sectional.
"I take it one game at a time throughout the postseason," said Reeb, in his third season at Gibault. "They keep reminding me, 'No, coach. Three games. Three games.' They want a state championship, without a doubt. I think they're hungry for it."
F.W. Parker has outscored its postseason foes 20-1, including a 1-0 victory over Elmhurst-based Timothy Christian in the super-sectional Tuesday.
The Colonels have a standout player in 6-foot-2 senior forward Noah Wolff, whose 22 goals lead F.W. Parker. Wolff has 11 assists, ranking second to senior Griffin Amdur (12). Senior Matt Sharrin's seven goals are second on the team.
"It's a possession style," Reeb said of F.W. Parker's attack. "They have some very crafty players up top. No. 11 (Wolff) is very crafty with the ball. We have to be able to mark him tight and not let him turn. He's supposed to be far and away their best player.
"I think it's going to be tough. I think they'll be a very solid team."
Gibault relies on its depth of talent.
Senior Mitch Meyer leads the Hawks with 17 goals, followed by junior Andrew Reinholz with 12. Senior Frank Mantia has four goals and 21 assists, and senior Tyler Enright has seven goals and 11 assists. Senior Wes Degener also is a threat with seven goals.
"That's the thing about us: You don't know who's going to beat you," Reeb said. "Any given night, it can be anybody. It's going to come down to one of our guys being able to step up and deliver. It's been a different guy every night. We have a lot of diverse talent."
Reeb doesn't have a feel for how the Colonels will defend the Hawks. Based on statistics, they could target Mantia and Meyer.
"I think they might just look at stats and see Frank Mantia with his 21 assists or Mitch Meyer with his 17 goals," Reeb said. "(But) I wouldn't be surprised if it's Wes Degener or Tyler Enright who beats them. They're guys who can definitely beat you."
Gibault senior keeper Austin Gregson has a 0.88 goals-against average and 148 saves. Reinholz, senior Nick Row, junior Ethan Shields and senior Tom Francescon are starting defenders.
Senior Zac Epplin, battling bone cancer, will be with the Hawks in Normal. Epplin was scheduled to undergo chemotherapy, but doctors have allowed him to postpone it until early next week.
Epplin, who will undergo surgery in December at St. Louis Children's Hospital, has been a motivation to his teammates, Reeb said.
"He's going to make the trip," said Reeb, adding that doctors are optimistic about Epplin's recovery. "He's excited. He's in good spirits. It's tough on him to watch because he wants to be a part of it, but he's happy for our guys."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at email@example.com or 239-2665.