No. 3 Aztec (19-2) has replaced many players from the 2010 team that head coach Stephen Parks believed to be a state championship caliber team.
One face has remained the same for five years, though, as senior captain Tyra Gabehart has been along for the ride since she was in eighth grade.
"She kind of knows how we work as coaches, and we know how she will play as a player," Parks said of his senior defender. "She has been a five-year varsity player and four- year starter. She has a really good understanding of how things work and she brings good leadership to the field."
The Lady Tigers are just three wins away from a state championship with No. 6 Kirtland Central standing in the way in the 4A state quarterfinals Thursday in Albuquerque.
"Winning state is not something I ever put a lot of thought into. It has always seemed out of reach, but it is hitting me this year that it isn't," Gabehart said.
A two-year captain, Gabehart said it has been an honor to be selected by her fellow teammates who she has grown up playing with.
"I have been playing with the same girls since I was really young," Gabehart said. "I am comfortable with the girls because we have an amazing bond. Now that it is coming to an end, it is kind of scary."
Gabehart can have fairytale memories if her high school career ends with a state championship
Gabehart began playing at a young age for her father. Gerald, who is the junior varsity coach at Aztec.
Her older sister, Shelby, also played and her mother, Lynn, has been the booster club president during the entire ride.
"I seriously could not ask for better support in my house. My mom has been to every game and my sister has been my No. 1 fan screaming in the stands ever since she had an injury that made it so she couldn't finish her career," Gabehart said. "My dad has been an assistant or head coach for all of my teams. Things wouldn't be the same without him. I have my dad on the field and my mom and sister in the stands. I couldn't ask for more."
Parks has also appreciated the bond with the Gabehart family.
"I have coached with Gerald for several years. Even before high school he helped our recreation team. It is nice to have that bond and our family dynamic has worked well," Parks said. "We are personal friends as well as coaches together. Another assistant, Christian McDonald, also has a daughter on the team and we all get together for dinner together sometimes. We are definitely close, and it helps."
Defense has been the strength of Aztec in recent years. Led by Gabehart, Parks gives the defenders freedom to play up in the midfield and even make runs to take shot at the goal.
If Aztec has success this week, you can bet it will start from the back and finish at the front.
"It has always been our backbone. Our strength comes from the back, and so do our leaders," Gabehart said.
"Our defense has been outstanding for us. Gabehart has probably been the one that initiates our running out of the defense. It gives the rest of our defense confidence to make passes and come up and take shots," Parks said. "As coaches, we love that because it gives us another angle to attack teams and they aren't prepared for it."
Aztec will use any advantage it can get if it reaches the state championship game against No. 1 Albuquerque Academy.
The Lady Tigers fell to Academy 1-0 in overtime on Sept. 22, and Gabehart hopes to see the Chargers one more time with the championship on the line.
"Losing to Academy was a good thing for us early in the season. They are the big name, and we are all excited to play them again if we can," Gabehart said. "Our team has really bonded, and we are as close as we have ever been. This is our last trip to state and our last chance to do something good."
Though Parks thought the 2010 team had the potential to win state, he has even more confidence in this year's team.
"Younger girls have filled in spots for girls we lost in 2010 and they have been amazing," Parks said. "This is possibly the most talented team we have ever had, and I continue to tell the girls that. They have the potential to go all the way, but it will take a lot of focus and dedication. The girls desire to win as well. I don't see us going down there and letting down."
10 Questions with Tyra Gabehart
Favorite pre-game music?
Favorite pre-game meal?
Favorite high school sports moment?
Toughest athlete you ever competed against?
If you could have any super power, what would you pick?
Favorite TV show?
What are your plans after graduating high school?
My dream vacation would be ...