NORMAL — Perhaps Thursday is the day the Normal Community High School girls soccer team's defense finally cracks.
The 8-0 Iron, who have outscored opponents a combined 50-0, will host 10-time state qualifier Peoria Notre Dame (6-0) at 6 p.m. Both squads are 3-0 in the Big 12 Conference.
Maybe the Irish — who beat NCHS 2-1 a year ago — can penetrate the Iron Curtain, a wall of deniability comprising senior defenders Sabrina Kosharek and Carmen Cornejo, juniors Maggie Peters and Katy Quinn and senior goalie Emma Spader.
"As long as we give our best," Kosharek said, "we're going to be happy with the result."
Win, lose or tie, NCHS coach Matt Chapman's opinion of his back line is unlikely to change.
"It's just a terrific unit," he said. "It's hard to describe how much fun it is to watch them play defense."
Each member brings something special to the task. Chapman calls Cornejo the "mom" of the group.
"She just takes care of everybody," he said. "She is very encouraging."
Mother Cornejo generously shares her line's success with those up front.
"We definitely have an amazing offense," she said. "They really help us. They come back from the midfield and really make our job a lot easier."
"It's not just our back line keeping goals out of the net," she said.
Cornejo says NCHS takes no foe lightly.
"Before every single game in our huddle, we always say, 'Play like it's our last game' because it could be," she said. "When postseason comes, it could be our last game."
Chapman calls Peters the quiet one, but "one of the toughest and best competitors we have" while Kosharek brings a calm, level-headed presence.
"Katy Quinn is kind of a happy-go-lucky kid, but she's a real tough competitor," adds Chapman. "Emma Spader can be super intense and competitive in a way that inspires others. If things aren't going the way they should be, she'll let people know. People respond to that."
The defenders in front of Spader have been so good, she's only had to make 14 saves. Her four bodyguards also look to attack. Each has at least one assist and all but one has scored.
"The chemistry and the communication we have together is really a key to our success," Kosharek said.
Chapman saw the Fab Five post 19 shutouts last year during a 22-3 campaign. He tabs experience as the key this year.
Kosharek is a four-year starter while Peters and Quinn are three-year starters. Cornejo, a part-time starter as a sophomore, is another returning starter. Spader split time in goal last year and missed the first two games this year while junior Savannah Henson filled in.
"All of them have played in other arenas at a very high level," Chapman said.
Peters, Quinn and Kosharek helped the Illinois Fire Juniors play for a national title in Florida last summer.
"Even playing against ourselves in practice, I think that's good competition because all the girls on our team are very good," Quinn said.
The defensive five was so good last spring, Chapman could afford to move stars Kendall Sosa and Georgi Roll into midfield roles.
"They are smart and just terrific citizens," he said. "They care about each other. They go out of their way to show that."
Peters draws inspiration from her fellow back liners.
"Each one of them works super hard every day and it makes me better," she said.
Odds are, the Iron will give up a goal at some point — perhaps Thursday is the day — and if they do, Chapman wants them to shrug it off.
"We've been pretty good as a program at responding to the next play," he said. "I'd be really surprised if it affects us negatively."
The success of the defense has lifted their teammates' confidence.
"Attackers can take more risks sometimes," said Chapman, who is surprised his team has eight shutouts.
A video review reveals there have been some close calls.
"We've definitely had some fortune smiling our way," he said, "but at the same time we've had some kids make terrific plays in that moment when it matters."
The next moments that matter arrive on Thursday against an opponent that has outscored its foes, 29-1. Those eager for a challenge will surely find it.