Friday, May 23, 2014
The 2014 season has been one of redemption for Wando boys soccer.
The honor of wearing the Warriors shield comes with the burden of perennial Class AAAA championship expectations.
Last season's second-round playoff loss to Dutch Fork is a distant memory at this point, washed away by a second-round win over the Silver Foxes a week ago. The Warriors' Lower State championship win over South Aiken on Tuesday was return to normalcy for the program.
Now, just one win, one team, stands in the Warriors' way of a return to the throne, Upper State power J.L. Mann.
The Patriots enter as the No. 1 team in the state, overtaking No. 2 Wando in the last week of the season. Wando dealt Mann its only loss this year with a 3-1 overtime win in the Carolina Classic at Patriots Point in March. J.L. Mann defeated Wando, 2-1, for the state title in 2012, the last time either team was in the state championship game.
Shilo Tisdale is in his eighth year with Wando soccer. Tisdale guided Wando to a state title in 2011 and was named a coach for the North-South All-Star game this season. It's Mann coach Brian Dender's first season with the Patriots after winning two AAA state championships in six years at Riverside. A Stratford alum, Dender is more than familiar with the tradition of Wando soccer and would love to pick up his first AAAA title with a win over the Warriors.
“It's become a huge rivalry,” Dender said. “There's always a rivalry with the top teams because of the success. Wando has a tradition of excellence. J.L. Mann is coming into their own. Any time you get teams of this caliber on the field, you get pumped up.”
Wando has yet to allow a single goal in the playoffs. Mann has given up just one. Wando junior keeper Jon Milligan has been a wall in goal, allowing just one score in the past 11 games. He's bolstered by defensemen Darby Marten, a College of Charleston signee, and Josh Masten who's also shown some scoring prowess with nine goals on the season.
“Our organization starts with our keeper and we have a system where the guys behind help organize the guys in front and that communication helps keep us in check,” Tisdale said. “It's not going to be a runaway. Really, it's going to come down to who's more composed in the goal and whose defense can stay organized.”
The Patriots defense is led by sweeper Tyler Rider, a Clemson signee and 2014 Gatorade S.C. Player of the Year. He's joined in the back by junior Wade Hile and keeper Aden Ardoin. Rider has 11 goals and 14 assists this season and Hile is described by Dender as the best high school athlete he's seen this year.
Wando has a swarming offensive attack that loves to rip off shots on goal. Junior midfielder Tucker Heffron leads the team with 20 goals, two in the postseason. Junior forward Nick Wright has been huge in his return from S.C. United Battery Academy this season with 18 goals and eight assists. Senior forward Alex Bourland, a Millsaps signee, has 11 goals this season, two in the playoffs, and sophomore forward Sam Ross has 10 assists on the year with six goals.
“Our guys up front have a little more freedom because we're so solid in the back,” Tisdale said. “Just as a unit, we probably have more balance than we've had in the past.”
Senior forward Keaton Hinze, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound James Madison signee, leads Mann with 30 goals and 18 assists. Junior midfielder Mason Gilpin, a Naval Academy commit, has 22 goals this season, while senior midfielder Aubrey Jones, a Naval Academy signee, has 14 goals and 19 assists.
Mann led Wando 1-0 with 10 minutes to play and in their meeting earlier this season. Dender says his team still remembers the feeling watching Wando steal a 3-1 win. Mann was without three starters, something Dender is banking on to make a difference in the rematch.
“Sure enough, it's us versus them,” Dender said. “I told Shilo after they beat us that I hoped to see them again in the finals. This team has grown. We're at 100 percent right now. We know it's going to be a battle, but we're willing to do anything necessary. We're going in confident.”
For Wando's seniors, Saturday is a final opporunity. Whether it be for redemption or championship glory, there's just one match left in the Warriors kit. Tisdale says his underclassmen are motivated by the chance to send the seniors out with a championship while lifting Wando back on top of South Carolina soccer.
“That win in March is a long way away,” he said. “We know that, but we also know, mentally, that we can beat them. They're going to come at you and they're going to attack you because they think they're better than you are. We're going to go right back at them. Our guys are focused. They're excited about it. It's going to be a fun race."