Ed Heberling had a three-year plan when he took the USC Beaufort women's soccer head coaching job three years ago.
The first year, he knew the Sand Sharks would struggle. The second year, they'd make the playoffs.
The third year? Finish in the top half of the Sun Conference and host a playoff game.
If the Sand Sharks can beat Ave Maria at 1 p.m. Saturday at home, Heberling's team will be right on schedule.
"For us as a program, that would be big," Heberling said. "It sets us up in recruiting for the future with players. ... It helps players see that we are building a program here. There is quality. There is improvement. They think, 'maybe I'll go out and watch' or 'yes, I'll go there and play.' "
But first the Sand Sharks (8-8-1) must stop Ave Maria. The Gyrenes, mired in a four-game losing streak, are led by Victoria Johnson (15 goals and five assists) and Anne Bateman (10 goals, seven assists).
"It's kind of hard to tell from year to year how good a team is," Sand Sharks goalkeeper Chelsie Mummert said. "People usually get better or worse. And I never want to underestimate a team because it usually comes back to bite me.
"But I know that we have to come out as hard as we can."
If USCB does beat Ave Maria, it will likely have to do so without sophomore defender Claire Kennedy, who injured her right ankle in Thursday's 1-0 win over Southeastern and had to be carted from the field.
"You hate to lose a player to injury. It's always sad. But our girls have a next-up mentality," Heberling said. "Claire's a great player, hardworking and athletic. We'll miss her on the field, but I know that someone is going to step up and perform."