The Wando boys soccer team is 14-0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation.
That’s an impressive accomplishment for any team, even an elite squad. But what makes Wando different is the Warriors had to overcome a double dose of heavy personnel losses after they lost in the Class AAAA state championship game last season.
Numerous players graduated, and four potential all-state players didn’t return to the team this year, choosing to play on a U.S. Development Academy team instead. This is the first year that U.S. Soccer academy teams are playing a year-round schedule, which makes it impossible for top players in the country to play for their high schools if they want to compete for academy teams.
Still, The Warriors are pace to reach the Class AAAA state championship for the third year in a row. Coach Shilo Tisdale, who led the team to a state title in 2011, knew the Warriors had the depth to overcome the player losses.
“The players we had coming back, they were team-oriented and unselfish,” said Tisdale, whose team hosts Class AA state power Bishop England at 7 p.m. today. “They’ve done well in the club program and they’ve done well here. They were just in the shadow of other people’s names.”
Wando is the largest high school in the state, and there was still plenty of talent on campus. The team has nine seniors, including captains Eric Clark and Andrew Davis. Clark, who leads the team with 17 goals and 18 assists, will play for the College of Charleston, and Davis is headed to Columbia to play for South Carolina.
Clark and Davis are asked to provide leadership.
“It really feels like the team is coming together,” Davis said. “We have a lot of young players who look up to us. We have to provide the leadership. We have the experience.”
Davis said it is sometimes hard when he sees one of his former teammates in the hallway at school.
“We played soccer for 12 years,” Davis said. “We always talk about what’s going on. We talk about life. We talk about soccer. But not playing together is difficult. It’s changed the dynamics.”
One of the youngest players on the team is Sam Ross, who has 12 goals and three assists.
The team earned its top ranking after capturing the Nike Palmetto Cup earlier this month. The Warriors went from unranked to No. 1 in the country, according to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.
The Warriors went 4-0 in the prestigious tournament and posted shutouts in the semifinal and championship matches. The Warriors have pushed the shutout streak to four games heading into tonight’s game against the Bishops.
“We don’t focus on the ranking,” Clark said. “It really doesn’t mean anything until the end of the season. Two years ago, Irmo was No. 1 in the country and we beat them in the state championship. It can happen.”
Seniors Alistair Jones and Steven Mitchell have been playing well. Mitchell was named to the Palmetto Cup all-tournament team.
“Undefeated, 14-0. At the beginning of the season, I never thought of it like that,” Tisdale said. “I knew we would make progress.
“Being No. 1 in the nation makes us a big target. We have it. The only way we can lose it is if we give it away.”
Follow Philip M. Bowman on Twitter: @PandCPhil.