wando

Wando celebrates its third straight state championship, after a 1-0 win over J.L. Mann Saturday in Irmo.

T

he Warriors grew rowdier in the locker room as the rain fell heavier on the field outside.

They hollered and screamed and stormed around stir-crazy like wild animals penned in a cage. They scribbled long division math equations on a dry-erase board to pass the time rather than scheming up strategies or plays. That led to an intense game of hangman that ignited the room even further.

“We just got hype for no reason,” Warriors junior Jackson Stebbins said of an 80-minute rain delay that interrupted the second half of the Class AAAAA state championship game.

“I almost had to go check what was going on in there,” Wando coach Shilo Tisdale said. “You could hear the yelling from outside the door and you just knew we were going to be OK.”

That was all before the final 20 minutes of regulation and then 25 more minutes of overtime. Imagine then, the Warriors’ reaction after Bennett Schilpp hit a 30-yard sudden-death game-winner in the waning seconds of triple overtime to deliver Wando a 1-0 win over J.L. Mann that secured its third straight state title Saturday night in Irmo.

Of all that Wando has accomplished in its 37-year history — the 800 wins, the nine state titles, the two national titles — the Warriors have never won three state championships in a row.

“Finishing on top this year meant more than the past because of everything we’d gone through,” Warriors senior Ari Ogretman said. “We wanted to be remembered as a group that wasn’t supposed to be where we were but made history.”

None of the players on Wando's roster had ever lost a game until the Warriors’ state-record 58-game winning streak was spoiled in February. Wando stumbled again two weeks later, losing to a Lowcountry opponent for the first time since 2016. The Warriors began the season positioned 10th in USA Today’s Super 25 national rankings, already a far cry from the No. 1 spot they'd grown accustomed to. They fell out of the national rankings by the second week and never returned. They slipped to third in the state poll and never climbed any higher. For the first time any of them could remember, the once seemingly untouchable Warriors appeared vulnerable.

“The team took those losses as learning lessons,” Stebbins said. “Carrying on the program’s legacy was so important to us. We had guys from the past two years texting us, motivating us and we just felt like we were on a mission.”

The mission began in earnest two weeks ago with an 11-1 win over Irmo in the opening round of the postseason and the latest edition of what many consider the greatest soccer rivalry in state history. Wando followed two days later with a 7-2 win over River Bluff, who’s become the Warriors newest adversary in recent years. Following a 3-0 win over Lexington in the third round, Wando shut out nationally ranked Dutch Fork — responsible for snapping its winning streak three months ago — to earn its bid back into the state title match.

“This path we’ve traveled in the playoffs allowed us to identify and realize that we are now our own team,” Tisdale said of a Warriors’ lineup that replaced nine starters from last season. “We’re not leaving the Wando of last year or any team in the past but we were finally creating our own identity within this program. Winning a third state title was an opportunity to solidify that.”

Wando and J.L. Mann had met in the state championship match three times in the previous six years. Some state rankings listed the Patriots above the Warriors entering the match, a perfect final challenge to conquer. 

“Shilo told us before the game that we had a chance to be one of the most special groups because of everything on the line,” Ogretman said.

Wando nearly stumbled early as the Warriors defense lost Patriots seniors Michael Dogan and Miles Phifer, who together broke free on a counter attack in the third minute. Dogan streaked down the right side with possession but instead of crossing back to set up an unguarded Phifer, he fired away at Wando keeper Logan McCoy who snatched the open opportunity out of the air.

It was one of the several timely denials for McCoy who guarded the net aggressively, attacking on multiple close calls and leaping to punch away several others. Mohamed Al-Jaouni matched McCoy’s stability tending Mann's net, working with his back line to clear numerous Warrior advances inside what was typically a crowded box.

Sixty minutes passed with no score before rain and lightening chased both sides into the locker room. It’d be 80 minutes before play resumed again.

“We were upset because we felt like we were about to score,” Stebbins said. “We’ve faced so much adversity this season. This just felt like another hurdle we had to get over.”

Another 20 minutes of regulation came and went, as did two 10-minute overtime periods without a goal. Next came a five-minute period of sudden death. Wando was growing more frustrated than fatigued as promising chances went unfulfilled. Tisdale shuffled his lineup some ahead of the third overtime, sending in Schilpp knowing that despite being one of the team's smallest and most inexperienced players, the junior was fearless. 

“Watch, Bennett is going to get the game winner,” Tisdale told his assistants before play resumed. “I have a feeling.”

“And sure enough,” Tisdale said. “He just tees off.”

McCrady Andrews dumped a soft throw-in at the feet of Schilpp with less than 15 seconds remaining. Schilpp, who'd scored just two goals in his career, didn’t hesitate. He whirled around and immediately fired away from 30 yards out.

“I really didn’t think it was going in at first,” Ogretman said. “It looked like it went wide.”

“I thought I completely missed it,” Schilpp admitted.

“No one on our team the team expected to hit it in the first place,” Stebbins said. “We put our heads down and were preparing for penalty kicks for a split second.”

Schilpp’s line drive took one skip off the waterlogged turf 5 yards in front of the goal and squeezed between the post and Al-Jaouni, who after being so impenetrable all night froze just long enough for it to pass through.

“I almost didn’t even believe it,” Schilpp said.

“Everyone was so surprised.” Stebbins added.

“It was straight excitement,” Tisdale recalled of his sideline charging the field in celebration. Most of the bench ran to Schilpp. Tisdale impulsively sought out his seniors who had just completed their final high school game in the grandest of fashion.

“I just froze,” Ogretman said. “And thought about the past two years with these guys. It was the best feeling.”

The last-second score nearly four hours after the game began seemed to be an appropriate finish for a team that showed a penchant late in the season for overcoming earlier adversity. It immediately altered the perception of a group that could’ve been known for ruining multiple winning streaks but instead extended the championship legacy even further.

“It means a lot to represent Wando soccer like this,” Schilpp said. “We didn’t want to lose what last year’s group had earned. We'd already lost a couple games. It was a huge sense of burden. It kind of weighs you down a little. But now, this just changes everything. Now we're part of that legacy.”

The Warriors reentered their locker room after the game just as excited as they'd left it. Their game of hangman was still up on the whiteboard. The hangman was down to his last few opportunities before the game would have ended. The Warriors figured it out though.

The winning word? Three-peat.