Finding an explanation how the Alleman girls' soccer team enters regional play after having perhaps its best regular season in program history has many answers.
Macy Hoskins offers one.
"There's been a lot more positive attitudes," the Alleman senior goalkeeper said. "We have that drive to win."
On top of that, the Pioneers have revamped the program by orchestrating a culture change within it. What helped them shake the title of a so-called pushover is the team believing they can succeed, then displaying the confidence each time they step on the field.
"A lot of people think we're a 'cupcake' team," Alleman sophomore forward Andria Serra said. "We were not going to let that be. We came out there and showed it."
As the Pioneers open play in the Class 1A Alleman Regional on Tuesday, they do so with a 10-3 record -- with all three losses in Western Big 6 Conference play -- after winning 12 total matches the previous two seasons. They also are guaranteed an above-.500 finish for the first time since 2005.
From the outside, the record and regional top seed is surprising. Inside the locker room, this is no shock.
"They keep improving," third-year Alleman coach Randy Bollman said. "Each game, each training session, they get better. Every game, we're learning and getting better."
The tone was set in the season opener against Quincy.In that 5-1 loss to their Big 6 foe, the Pioneers held a 1-0 first-half lead and played with a swagger that had them believing they could win. Even after the loss, they knew this season would be different because the mentality within the team was positive.
"That (the Quincy match) set our standards high," said Hoskins, one of two seniors on the roster. "It showed that we can compete ... and go far if we can keep up the work."
So far, that has not been an issue.
"We practice hard every day," Hoskins said.
The record reflects that.
Outside league play, Alleman carries an 8-0 record as it searches for the program's third regional title and first in a decade. Besides a constant work ethic, the Pioneers rely on what Bollman considers a high "soccer knowledge" on the roster and improved team chemistry to complete a rebuilding process started three years ago.
"There are a lot of girls who have grown up playing soccer, so teaching new things is not as time consuming," Bollman said. "The best part is they're smart enough to make adjustments on the field."
Bollman can't forget one other part that adds to the excitement: Eight starters are freshmen or sophomores. In fact, nearly 80 percent of the Pioneers' goals this year are from underclassmen.
"I'm excited for the girls," Bollman said. "They're having a great time. That's what makes it exciting."
Looking at Alleman's future, it appears exciting. With postseason starting on Tuesday, the present does as well.
"Huge week," Serra said. "We're going to show how we are as a team."
Alleman already has.
Class 1A Alleman Regional preview capsule
Where: McKenzie Field, Moline
Tuesday's semifinal pairings: No. 1 Alleman vs. No. 4 DePue, 5 p.m.; No. 2 Princeton vs. No. 3 Spring Valley Hall, 7 p.m.
Championship: 6 p.m. Friday
FYI: The Pioneers (10-3) are the No. 1 seed in a regional for the first time since the IHSA split soccer into three classes in 2009. ... Sophomore forward Andria Serra finished the regular season with a team-leading 18 goals. ... Goalkeepers Macy Hoskins and Anna Noe have combined for eight shutouts this season. ... The regional winner meets the Quincy Notre Dame Regional champion in the Bloomington Central Catholic Sectional semifinal on May 14.