The limited expectations were understandable.
Dave Musso thought his Quincy University women's soccer team was better than the predictions suggested, but he couldn't argue against the skepticism.
The Hawks finished 6-10-2 in 2016 and missed the NCAA Division II national tourament for only the second time in Musso's 11 seasons at the helm. All but one starter returned this fall, but no one saw a reason to expect a complete turnaround.
In some eyes, picking the Hawks to finish sixth in the Great Lakes Valley Conference in a preseason poll of the league's coaches might have been a little generous.
What those coaches couldn't see or understand -- and what gave Musso such hope -- was the offseason commitment of the seniors to avoid another wasted season.
Their determination became their unifying bond.
"The chemistry of this team is better than any team I've played on," said senior defender Maddy Kuhlenberg, the lone fifth-year senior among the eight Hawks who will graduate. "Everyone is playing for each other and the chance to do something special. It's turning into a season none of us will ever forget."
It can only get more memorable.
Quincy (17-3-1) faces Grand Valley State (19-2) at 11 a.m. Friday at Central Missouri University's South Recreation Complex in Warrensburg, Mo., in the NCAA Division II Midwest Region championship. The winner gets a berth in the elite eight and a potential showdown with No. 1-ranked Central Missouri on Sunday.
A victory ties this QU team with the 2013 team for the most victories in program history. The Hawks already own the record for most consecutive shutouts with seven, and they could be the first team to win two NCAA Tournament games in the same season since Quincy became a D-II school in 1994.
"It really has everything to do with our seniors," Musso said. "They weren't going to settle for another year like last season. They wanted to make the most of this season and get back to where we want this program to be."
Winning the first two home games against GLVC favorites Truman State and Rockhurst and rallying in the second half to win at Missouri S&T made that abundantly clear.
The real difference -- the desire and determination are intangible qualities -- has been the ability to finish in the clutch.
The Hawks have twice scored game-tying goals in the 86th minute. They've scored game-winning goals four times in the 81st minute or later, including twice in overtime.
Only once have they allowed a go-ahead goal after the 70th minute. That happened four times last year.
"We don't lose our edge," senior goalkeeper Megan Swanson said. "When you talk about chemistry, one of the big things is having each other's back. We truly have that with this team. Everybody is there to cover up for everybody else. No one is going to let their teammates down."
It goes back to the preseason idea of being relentless every minute.
The Hawks changed their tactics this season, playing a more high-pressure attack. It has resulted in an average of 18 shots per game, while allowing only 10. The Hawks averaged 15 shots per game and allowed 14 last year.
Quincy is averaging nearly two more corner kicks per game this season as well.
"When you put teams on their heels, which is what we're trying to do, it opens up the field," Musso said. "It allows us to dictate the play and force the issue. We use that to our advantage."
It's created the opportunity the Hawks sought. They are two victories away from a berth in the final four.
Just as important, they've re-established high expectations.
There will be no skeptics next year thinking Quincy can't get the job done.