QUINCY -- Mark Longo is crossing his fingers and saying an extra prayer or two.
Erin Barnes is avoiding the subject.
And everyone else associated with the Quincy Notre Dame girls soccer program is hoping the injuries that sidelined key players each of the last two seasons are a thing of the past.
"Knock on wood," said Longo, entering his 30th season as the Raiders' head coach after winning back-to-back Class 1A state championships. "We need to stay injury free."
It's become a taboo topic around practice.
"We don't like to talk about it just to avoid jinxing it," said Barnes, a senior forward. "It's a really tough deal if injuries are to occur, so we just keep the subject off the table."
After all that has gone on, it's unavoidable.
Two years ago, QND lost forward Izzie Anderson to a season-ending knee injury. Last year, midfielders Anna Stokes and Ellie Peters went down with knee injuries, and goalkeeper Delaney Walker was lost four games into the season with an ankle injury.
Through it all, the Raiders went 26-3, set the single-season school record with 22 shutouts and successfully defended a state championship for the second time in program history. QND also won back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013.
"We were able to use our depth to our advantage," Longo said. "I don't know if we are as deep this season. We have some flexibility, which is a good thing, but that's only if we stay injury free."
A bump in classification makes things a little more challenging as well. Thanks to the IHSA success factor, QND is considered a Class 2A school for the state tournament series.
"We know we are going to be in Class 2A and there's going to be more competition," Barnes said. "That doesn't change our mindset of going out and trying our best and putting 100 percent into our effort."
Nor does it change the fact QND has eight starters returning, including the bulk of a dominant defense.
Madison L. Meyer, who replaced Walker at goalkeeper and went to record 19 shutouts and earn all-sectional honors, will be back in goal with all-sectional sweeper Maddie Dickerman in front of her. Replacing the physical presence of Molly Penn in the middle is the hard part.
The combination of speed, quickness and physical play from the likes of Madison K. Meyer defensively and Taylor Keck and Meredith Siebers in the midfield helps compensate for a lot.
"Fast and quick," Longo said. "Those are two good things to be."
Opportunistic is another.
Anderson, a junior forward, had 20 goals and 11 assists last season, while all-sectional midfielder Morgan Evans, a junior, finished with 19 goals and 17 assists. Barnes added 13 goals and nine assists.
"Having quick players up top and being able to take defenders on with speed is very important," Barnes said. "It's something that's significant in any type of offensive attack."
It gives the Raiders the confidence they can score against almost any defense.
"There are teams where we know their defensive line is pretty good so we have to be creative and work passes to get through them," Barnes said. "It's not a given we can get through there, but our mentality is to go at it 100 percent. We're going to take it head on."
Just like they are with the title pursuit, regardless of classification.
"That's what we're demanding our goal be, another state title," Barnes said. "We're pushing, driving for that."
QND at a glance
Coach: Mark Longo (530-93-68 at QND, 30th season).
2018 record: 26-3-2 (beat North Shore Country Day 5-1 for Class 1A state championship).
Returning starters: GK Madison L. Meyer, Sr.; D Madison K. Meyer, Sr.; D Maddie Dickerman, Jr.; MF Taylor Keck, Jr.; MF Maddie Peters, Jr,; MF Morgan Evans, Jr.; F Erin Barnes, Sr.; F Izzie Anderson, Jr.
Other top returnees: MF Meredith Siebers, Jr.; MF Ellie Peters, Soph.; MF Anna Stokes, Sr.; MF Katelyn Nelson, Sr.; D Emme Kirn, Soph.; F Audrey Henkenmeier, Soph.; F/GK McKenna Little, Jr.
Key losses: F Hannah Peters, MF Olivia Dreyer, D Molly Penn.