She was jogging off the field, late in the second half, and with a faint smile on her face, Emily Owens announced to her team that "yup, I'm pretty sure my toenail just ripped off."
She shrugged her shoulders as if to say, "No big deal. Just another day at the office."
You wouldn't know it by looking at them — the players aren't big or imposing — but when talking about the success of his Audubon girls' soccer team, the first thing coach Bill Scully points to is the edge with which the team plays. It's a fearlessness that belies its youth.
"We have a strong group of kids who fight like crazy," Scully said. "They just battle."
Owens, a sophomore, credits that mindset as a big reason she's been able to lead the Green Wave with 10 goals and six assists this season.
"For me, I would say my aggression is my biggest strength. When I want something I don't let anything stop me," Owens said. "And I do think we're an intense team. We all support each other. We're helping each other with our success this year."
The attitude carried Audubon to a 13-4-2 regular-season record, earning the Green Wave the No. 1 seed in the South Jersey Group 1 tournament.
After a convincing 4-1 win over a talented Gateway team in the first round, a game in which Owens netted two goals despite her toenail injury, Audubon looked like a serious contender for its second South Jersey title in school history.
"That's what we want so bad right now," Owens said.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the Green Wave's run is the makeup of the team. Audubon starts just one senior and one junior. The rest of its starting lineup is made up of talented, overachieving underclassmen.
Owens has been a standout all year, but she's far from the only one. She is part of a trio of sophomores who lead the team's offense. The others are Quinci Battle, who has eight goals and nine assists, and Emily McGrath, who has eight goals and three assists.
The defense has been led largely by freshman standout Jade Zuccerelli and freshman goalie Aysiah Maldonado.
Owens played with many of her classmates before high school on the Barrington Revolution club team. She said it helped them build chemistry and to get on the same page in terms of how they want to play the game.
"We're all really close," Owens said. "And once we got to high school we all saw the potential that we had. It made us want success even more."
As a Group 1 school in the Colonial Conference Liberty Division, Audubon typically plays one of the toughest regular-season schedules in Group 1. It includes two meetings with powerhouse Haddonfield.
The team finished its final six games with a 1-3-2 record. But Scully said those matches only emphasized his team's resilience. "We're battle tested," he said. "And that's only going to help us right now."
For Owens, playing a tough regular season has helped fast-track her maturity on the field. And it's made her even more excited for the future.