QUINCY -- On the doorstep.
That's where the Quincy Notre Dame boys soccer team's season has ended each of the past two years. The Raiders were one step away from reaching the Class 2A state tournament when they lost in the super-sectional, falling 2-1 to Lisle Benet Academy in 2016 and 2-1 to Wheaton Academy last fall.
Those setbacks came on the heels of a 3-2 loss to Waterloo in the sectional semifinals in 2015, when the Raiders erased a two-goal halftime deficit but gave up the winning goal with five minutes to play.
"It kills us," senior defender Ben Whittaker said. "It definitely is a goal for us to get past that. Especially all of us upperclassmen, we've had to deal with that. We've had a lot of tough losses in the postseason. We're committed to changing that."
The right of experience, talent and depth could make that happen.
The Raiders return eight starters from a 21-5 team that scored 110 goals, the second most in a single season in program history. Most of the upperclassmen have been on the varsity since they were freshmen and understand the pressure that comes with being a veteran team.
"Obviously, there are high expectations, but we're ready for it," Whittaker said. "We had that last year. So with the experience comes maturity, and we can deal with it the right way."
That's to embrace it, not fear it.
"With all the talent we have, being senior-strong, it's going to be exciting," senior forward Mitchell Murphy said. "We have to live up to that."
QND opens its season Friday in the QND/Quincy Recycle Tournament without sophomore midfielder Seth Anderson, who suffered a knee injury during the summer and will not play this fall. He scored 14 goals with five assists last fall.
Anderson's absence hurts, but there is plenty of firepower offensively.
Murphy, who has committed to play at NCAA Division I Southern Methodist, scored 19 goals and had 25 assists last season. He creates a consistent attack when combined with senior forwards Colby Kapp and Sam Nudo. Peyton Stegeman moves from being a defensive midfielder to an attacking mid to support the front line.
"We've all played with each other for many, many years," Murphy said. "So we know what to do and how to get goals out of it."
What QND coach Greg Reis wants is for them to become interchangeable up front.
"We let them float around last year, and it caused us some mismatches and different looks we were able to take advantage of," Reis said. "We give those guys the freedom to float, but they just have to remember one of them has defensive responsibilities."
The Raiders are big, tough and experienced defensively. They also have an experienced keeper in junior Griffin Kirn, who had eight shutouts last season.
"He's a man compared to where he was last year," Reis said. "He's grown, and he filled out a ton. In the program, he's listed as 6-3, 195 (pounds). You don't see guys like that who are as athletic as him at this level. He's a great shot stopper. He's gotten much better at coming off the line and in the air. We just need him to be a little more vocal. He's starting to figure that role out."
It helps having guys in front of him who have been through the battles.
"Every single one of our guys will have a good amount of postseason experience, and that makes a huge difference," Whittaker said.
It may be what helps the Raiders kick down the door instead of stopping on the doorstep.
"We see it as a curse," Murphy said. "And hopefully we're breaking it this year."
At a glance
Coach: Greg Reis (314-177-52 at QND, 22nd season).
2017 record: 21-5 (lost 2-1 to Wheaton Academy in Class 2A super-sectional).
Returning starters: F Mitchell Murphy, Sr.; F Colby Kapp Sr.; MF Peyton Stegeman, Sr.; MF Will Drew, Jr.; D Ben Whittaker, Sr.; D Konner Schuckman, Sr.; D Keegan Klingele, Jr.; GK Griffin Kirn, Jr.
Other returning letterwinners: F Sam Nudo, Sr.; MF Chance Bailey, Jr.; D Paul Cornwell, Jr.
New faces: F Ben Frericks, Fr.; MF Gabe Whittaker, Soph.; MF Brandt Waterkotte, Soph.
Key losses: F Macker Little, D Conner Fenton.
Schedule: Aug. 24 vs. Jefferson City Helias, 3 p.m.; Aug. 25 vs. Ladue, 10 a.m.; Aug. 25 vs. Rock Island, 2 p.m.; Aug. 28 at Jefferson City, 6 p.m.; Aug. 29 vs. Washington, 6 p.m.; Aug. 30 vs. Canton, 4:30 p.m.; Sept. 1 at Rochester, 12:30 p.m.; Sept. 6 vs. Quincy High School, 6:30 p.m.; Sept. 8 at Normal Community, 3:30 p.m.; Sept. 10 vs. Chatham Glenwood at Illinois College, 5 p.m.; Sept. 12 vs. Hannibal, 6:30 p.m.; Sept. 13 vs. Springfield, 6 p.m.; Sept. 17 at Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin, 6 p.m.; Sept. 20 vs. Beardstown, 6 p.m.; Sept. 22 at Jacksonville, 12:30 p.m.; Sept. 24 at Macomb, 6 p.m.; Sept. 27-29 at Burlington (Iowa) Fall Tournament; Oct. 9 at United Township, 6 p.m.; Oct. 11 at Quincy High School, 6:30 p.m.