The Bishop England boys soccer program shares the record for most state championships in history with 15 since the sport was sanctioned by the High School League in 1976. But last spring, the Bishops were mere mortals.

Fort the first time since 1997, the Bishop England failed to play in the state championship. The Bishops dropped a 4-1 decision to Waccamaw in the Lower State semifinal.

Longtime coach Ed Khouri was surprised by his team’s early exit.

“But there were some quality teams in the Lower State,” said Khouri, whose team is 8-2 this season, including 3-1 in Region 6-AA. “Academic Magnet had a good team and Waccamaw, like many other teams, always chomps at the bit when they have a chance to play us. It was just one of those things. It happens.”

The Bishops have talent. And they have more humility.

“The returning players have a different demeanor,” Khouri said. “We’re more humble this season. Last year, we had some juniors and seniors who thought they had attained all their goals. But they didn’t do the work. It showed.”

This year’s team is led by captains Drew Costa, Mateo Gomez and Ross Rogers. The team is relatively young, but is more balanced than last year’s squad when it comes to fundamentals and technique.

Gomez can play three positions and Costa is one of the best midfielders in the state. Rogers has been steady as a keeper since his sophomore season.

“Costa enjoys both sides of it as a football kicker and a soccer player,” Khouri said. “He has state championships in two sports, and I know he wants to win another in May. Rogers has done a good job. He wants to win. Gomez is the quiet one. He does everything you ask.”

The Bishops were 15-5-2 heading into last year’s game against Waccamaw, a team Bishop England have beaten 15 consecutive times. But Waccamaw prevailed and advanced to the Lower State championship, losing to eventual Class AA state champ Academic Magnet.

“It’s hard to maintain that level of success,” Khouri said. “It took a while to get over it, but after a while you have to accept it. To be honest with you, we didn’t want it bad enough last year. We didn’t show up to play against Waccamaw.”

Academic Magnet already owns a victory over the Bishops this season, a match decided by penalty kicks. The schools play again on April 18. Khouri predicted the two teams will battle in the playoffs for a berth in the state championship.

But first, the Bishops must conclude the regular season, which provides many tough tests, including next week’s Palmetto Cup at Brookland-Cayce High School.

“We want to win that tournament,” Khouri said. “That will prepare us and hopefully propel us to the state championship. That will get us ready, physically and mentally.”