For four seasons, Green Valley softball coach Lauren Taylor and the Gators' senior class have worked toward one goal: getting to the Class 4A state tournament.
And in each of the past two seasons, the Gators came up one game short.
In the minds of the seniors, that option didn't exist this year.
"They knew at the end of last year that something needed to change," Taylor said. "I had six seniors that were returning that had been playing together two or three or four years. They just weren't going to let that happen again."
The Gators (29-7), who beat Liberty twice May 14 to win the Sunrise Region tournament, will participate in their first state tourney since 2003 today when they face Northern Region runner-up Damonte Ranch (21-10) at noon at UNR's Christina Hixson Field.
Mostly gone are the painful memories from the past two seasons, including last year, when the Gators were one out from advancing to state.
"I felt the want to win way more this year," senior first baseman Ali Bodnar said. "We're actually a team this year. Last year we had individuals, and this year we're playing together. This is our year to take it."
Taylor felt a change, too. In the fall, when she had a meeting for varsity players, the returning seniors -- Bodnar, Kayla Anderson, Alicia Firelein, Carly Smith, Joan Dungey and Razia Ali -- made it known they'd settle for nothing less.
"The kids walked into the room with Dairy Queen and just said, 'Coach, it's on this year,' as they all walk in with no napkins and they're spilling ice cream all over the floor," Taylor said.
The fun-loving attitude has helped the Gators, who have won 19 of their last 20 games and have allowed more than three runs in a game only twice in that span.
"Their individual personalities have molded this team into such a fun atmosphere to be in," said Taylor, who will miss out on at least some of that fun this week after giving birth to daughter Gavynn on Tuesday.
Greg Taylor, his wife's assistant coach, will guide the team in Reno with the head coach hopeful she'll be able to fly in Saturday to watch her team play its final game or games of the year.
"It's a bummer," Lauren Taylor said. "If I can get up there on Saturday morning, I will be there. This is just one of those things where we sat down and looked at our regional plaque, and my husband looked at it and said, 'You know you're never going to have another team like that again.' It's not necessarily the talent. It's the girls."
Though the Gators are talented, too. Eight regulars are hitting at least .300, and pitchers Desiree Laswell and Firelein have had outstanding seasons.
"If everyone does their own job, get on base, get a base hit, that's how you're going to win," Anderson said. "You can't try to do too much."
Sunset Region champion Palo Verde (28-8) also will make its first state appearance since 2003 when it faces 2008 state titlist and Northern Region champion Spanish Springs (31-1) at 10 a.m. today in the double-elimination tournament.
Each team will play two games today, with the final set for Saturday.
Contact reporter Bartt Davis at email@example.com or 702-387-5230.