Mark Francis remembers 2001 when Kansas University soccer earned its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
"Our kids were scared to death," said Francis, now in his sixth season as the Jayhawks' head coach.
Francis used a lot of freshmen then, including the seven who now are senior starters on this year's squad -- the best in school history and the first KU women's team to capture a Big 12 Conference title since 1997.
Seven senior starters and a league championship are not mutually exclusive. Experience cannot be discounted. As juniors, the seven seniors helped dispose of Illinois State and Missouri at an NCAA Regional in Columbia, Mo., before bowing to UCLA, 1-0, in Los Angeles.
"Winning those two games last year was important," Francis said. "Our kids realize what they need to do."
This time, Kansas will play host to a regional -- another first for the program that was inaugurated in 1995 as a buffer against Title IX regulations.
The No. 8-seeded Jayhawks will meet Creighton approximately 2 p.m. Friday at Jayhawk Soccer Complex. Nebraska and Oral Roberts will tangle in the first game at 11:30 a.m.
Friday's winners will battle at 1 p.m. Sunday for the right to advance. If the winner is Kansas, the Jayhawks won't have to go halfway across the country. They'd play host to another playoff series the following weekend.
Of the seven seniors who compose KU's 11-woman starting lineup, the one clearly having the best year is goalkeeper Meghan Miller. The 5-foot-10 senior from Seattle, ranks seventh nationally in goals-against average.
Only once this season has KU (17-4) surrendered more than one goal in a game. That was Friday -- a 3-2 double-overtime loss to Texas in the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament in San Antonio, Texas.
One of the goals came via a dead-on penalty kick. Another Texas score occurred after Miller collided with a teammate in front of the goal. Francis considers the three Texas goals an anomaly.
"I'm not concerned," Francis said. "If we were giving up three goals in every game, I'd be concerned."
Miller, a first-team all-league selection last year, is a lock to repeat.
As stingy as Miller has been in goal, she also has benefited from a talented line of defenders led by sophomore Holly Gault. A sophomore from nearby Spring Hill, Mo., Gault earned second-team all-Big 12 honors as a freshman and figures to climb to first-team status this fall.
The other defenders are senior Stacy Leeper, a Shawnee Mission East product now at 100 percent after suffering an ankle injury in the regular-season finale against Iowa State; soph Nikki Alvarez of Wichita Northwest; and Afton Sauer from Highlands Ranch, Colo., the lone freshman starter.
Francis has an all-senior midfield of Gaby Quiggle (Portland, Ore.), Lauren Williams (Laguna Niguel, Calif.) and Amy Geha (Overland Park Aquinas).
Up front are seniors Rachel Gilfillan (Cottage Grove, Minn.) and Monica Brothers (Leavenworth), and junior Caroline Smith, a goal-scoring machine from Edina, Minn.
Smith, who became KU's all-time goal scorer last year, leads the Jayhawks this season with 11 goals, eight assists and 30 points. Gilfillan is second with eight goals, two assists and 18 points.
Nicole Cauzillo, a sophomore transfer from West Virginia, is third with four goals, six assists and 14 points. Cauzillo is the first sub on the front line. Gault and Geha have four goals, four assists and 12 points apiece.