There was Julie Fonda on Thursday morning, driving the Glenbard South team bus on a familiar path to East Peoria.
Boy, has it been an interesting ride back.
Glenbard South, the lone team returning to the state softball tournament in either Class 3A or 4A, will play Chatham Glenwood today in a noon 3A semifinal at EastsideCentre.
The Raiders (24-12) lost five starters, including ace pitcher and 2008 Daily Herald All-Area captain Jill Trzaska, off last year's third-place team. They started the season 1-8 but have been a different team since a 5-4 extra-inning win over Naperville Central on April 11.
Keying the Raiders' resurgence are sophomore shortstop Jenny Wittenberg, senior center fielder Lauren Podgorski and freshman second baseman Brianna Meath. Sophomore pitcher Jess Wilkes has shut out two of the Raiders' last three playoff opponents.
"That's the goal, is to be playing your best at state tournament time," Fonda said. "If you can play your best at the end, you have a chance of going somewhere."
In an eerie parallel Chatham Glenwood (27-8) has not lost since an 8-0 defeat to Edwardsville, which will play Naperville Central today, on May 8. In supersectional Chatham Glenwood upset Mattoon, which beat Glenbard South in last year's Class 3A semifinal and was ranked No. 1 in the latest Illinois Softball Coaches Association poll.
Leading the attack for Chatham Glenwood is senior catcher Kaitlyn England, hitting .416 with 17 extra-base hits and 39 RBI.
Fonda's knowledge of her opponent is limited - but the same went for the Raiders' supersectional opponent, Trinity.
"We'll show up and play our game," she said. "That's the best we can do. We've been good at adjusting as the games go along."
In the first semifinal Burlington Central (25-5) will play Oak Forest (29-4), which lost to Glenbard South in supersectionals last year.
Fonda is hopeful her group can draw on the experience of last year, both the highs and lows. Glenbard South lost a 5-0 lead in a semifinal loss to Mattoon, then rallied to beat Marengo in eight innings in a thrilling third-place game.
"That gives us an advantage," Fonda said. "They know what the field looks like down here, and they know what it feels like to win and lose down here. I feel like that experience is definitely going to help us."