Chelsea Ruland likes the chances of Pusch Ridge Christian Academy's girls soccer team returning to the state title game this year, after last year's 2-1 title game loss to Northwest Christian.
What's not to like after an easy 3-0 win over a Safford team that came into the final league game at 10-4, and 6-1 in league?
The Lions (12-3, 12-0) lost their first three games - non-conference games to Rincon, Canyon Del Oro and Ironwood Ridge - but they haven't lost since. Now the girls team will enter the 1A/2A/3A playoffs as the #1 seed in Arizona. They outscored their league opponents, 63-2, led by senior goalie Mara Batinica.
Of course, the Lions also went unbeaten in league play in 2009-2010.
Then, there's senior Chelsea Ruland, who led Southern Arizona in goals scored for the second straight year. Ruland commands a lot of attention for obvious reasons.
"I'm getting about the same amount of attention as I got last year," Ruland said.
With all the similarities to last year's team, why should the 2011 version win a state title?
"The wings are getting better," Ruland said. "As a team, we're becoming more in synch with each other. It's better this year."
This year's team defeated Safford because three different players scored goals for the Lions.
Anna Jacob scored an unassisted goal just 14 minutes into the game for a 1-0 lead. Three minutes later, Ruland scored on an assist from Mia Batinica.
"I could tell that they were focused and into it," said coach Juan Bortfeld. "Once we were up 2-0, it showed what this team is all about.
"This team has cohesiveness. That gives them a leg up."
Caroline Herrera scored the third Lions goal, shortly before halftime, on another assist from Batinica.
The Lions will have to play all their playoff games in Phoenix. The opener is this Saturday, Feb. 5, at Red Mountain Park.
While there's no home-field advantage for the Lions, Ruland pointed out one advantage. By virtue of being the #1 seed, the Lions will get a first-round bye and won't play until Saturday.
"We've had a pretty rough schedule," Ruland said. "I'm glad we're getting a rest.
"We were fired up (for Safford)," she added. "We need to go into the games aggressive. Keep the fire and passion."
The Pusch Ridge boys will play Empire on Friday at 7 p.m., also at Red Mountain Park.