When Melissa Rausch decided to take over the slumping Rampart girls' lacrosse program four years ago, she made sure everyone knew that it wasn't going to be a quick fix.
"Would we be competitive right away? No. Five years? Yeah," she said in her job interview.
Good news: Things are well ahead of schedule. The resurgent Rams are proving last year's 8-7 record wasn't a snapshot, but a panorama scope of things to come as they are 8-3 this season, outscoring opponents by a 175-67 margin.
Next step is playing toe-to-toe with the area powerhouses. Wednesday, the Rams (2-1 Southern League) will get that chance when they face rival Air Academy (8-1, 4-0) in hopes of knocking off the area giant for the first time since 2004.
"I'm tired of getting beaten by a whole lot when we play them," Rampart junior Kelli Warmouth said, remembering the 21-5 loss to the Kadets last year. "I think we'll be able to play with them this time. We're a lot better."
Rampart, which is leaps away from a team that was commonly below .500 in the late 2000s, has built most of its recent success on the backs of inexperienced talent. At the start of her reign, Rausch looked for "competitive athletes who knew how to have fun" and made a stamp on recruiting wide-eyed freshmen to a sport most of them didn't even know the school offered.
Warmouth, who leads Rampart with 42 goals this year, was one of them.
"I was going to go out for golf, but then Coach (Rausch) told me how fun lacrosse is and I tried it," Warmouth said. "It is fun we are getting to a place where we can play with not just OK teams, but good teams."
Air Academy falls in that "good" category - and has for a long time. Under the leadership of coach Sean Harmon for the past 15 years, the Kadets have been a revolving door around state titles with their last coming in 2012.
MacEllen McDonough, a senior captain for Air Academy, is one of five girls with at least 20 goals and five assists this season for the Kadets.
When asked about the upcoming game against Rampart, McDonough assured nobody is overlooking them.
"We need to stay focused and make sure we come out prepared," said McDonough, who has 25 goals and 10 assists this year. "We aren't thinking it's going to be easy."
Coming into it, Rampart has dropped its last two, including a 12-11 overtime loss to Dakota Ridge on Saturday, and faces Pine Creek on Monday. Air Academy, meanwhile, has won its past three games by double-digit margins.
The ball drops Wednesday at 4:15?p.m. at Air Academy.