Academic Magnet boys soccer head coach Jason Hamil is in need of a haircut.
After all, his last trim came nearly a year ago — in the aftermath of the Raptors’ 5-0 victory over Indian Land in the Class AA state championship game. That’s when each player took a turn clipping Hamil’s long, curly locks, following through on their coach’s promise to turn over the scissors if the squad captured the state title.
Although the players haven’t yet approached Hamil with a similar proposition this year, the 10th-year Academic Magnet coach has a sneaking suspicion that it’s just a matter of time. And he’s fine with that.
“They haven’t said anything specific,” Hamil said. “But if that’s what it takes, I’m prepared to do whatever we have to.”
With a long, challenging road ahead, hoisting back-to-back state championship trophies is not a sure thing for the Raptors. But as the No. 1 team in the High School League Class AA poll and with sustained playoff success in recent years, it’s what members of the program have come to expect.
“Our goal going into every year is a state championship,” said Hamil. “We feel that’s kind of where our program has grown to.”
Academic Magnet lost two starters and four players from last year’s team, including all-state forward David Michaelson and the versatile Chris Abraham.
But there’s plenty of experience on this year’s veteran-laden roster, which features seven seniors and five juniors. Seniors Jonathan Glenn, a Boston University signee who notched a team-high 34 goals last season, and Matt Houle lead the Raptors’ forward corps. Mack Koewler, last year’s co-team MVP, brings leadership to the midfield, and the defense is anchored by three-year captain Wyatt Ball and junior netminder Brady Allardice.
Academic Magnet (11-1 following Thursday’s 3-2 victory over Bishop England) already captured the Region 6-AA title with six wins in as many games, keyed by a 7-6 penalty kick victory over Bishop England on March 7 after playing to a 2-2 tie in regulation. The Raptors also knocked off Indian Land, 1-0, in a rematch of last season’s state title contest. The team’s only hiccup thus far was a 2-1 loss to Class AAAA Northwestern on March 23.
Hamil and Co. must navigate a tough stretch to close out the regular season. Four games against Class AAAA opposition lie ahead, including a pair against Wando, the No. 1 team in the nation according to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.
“That’s really a road that the team kind of demanded that I schedule to that level,” Hamil said. “They wanted that challenge. Last year we had a tough schedule going into the playoffs, and I think that paid off for us.”
Ball recognized the progress made by the program and expressed anticipation for the approaching games.
“I think it’s the first time our program really ever has had this difficult of a road,” Ball said. “Wando … that’s a huge rivalry within this community itself and obviously knowing the players on the team just makes it more intense. I don’t think it’s impossible, but it’s definitely going to be a hard challenge to overcome. But I think we can do it, especially with our attitude right now.”