Even with two straight state championships in the bag, Wando lacrosse coach Lance Renes knew his club could not take anything for granted this season.
Where: White Knoll High School, Lexington
Girls: Wando or BE vs. J.L. Mann, 11 a.m.
Boys: Wando vs. Fort Mill, 1:30 p.m.
That's why he put together the toughest schedule the Warriors have faced in their five seasons as a varsity team.
"In the past, we've been fine with a schedule of South Carolina teams," said Renes. "We would have maybe one tough game during the regular season. But I felt in order to win state this year, we needed four or five tough games."
The ramped-up schedule, featuring state powers Fort Mill and Greenville and top out-of-state squads from Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, has paid off thus far.
The 15-2 Warriors won the Lower State title with an 18-6 victory over Academic Magnet, and will play for their third straight state championship Saturday against Fort Mill. The match is set for 1 p.m. Saturday at White Knoll High School in Lexington.
"The schedule has really made us a better team," said Renes, whose squad beat Dorman and Fort Mill in the last two state championship matches and has not lost a playoff game since 2011. "We've learned to keep our composure in tight games and execute when the game is on the line."
The Warriors' only losses this season came against Fort Mill early in the season and against Ponte Vedra, a team from Jacksonville, Fla., stocked with Division I players.
Wando has a bevy of all-state players this season, led by senior attacker Tucker Dodson, who has committed to play lacrosse at Division III Merchant Marine Academy,
"He's the quarterback of our offense," Renes said. "He leads the team in goals and assists and is just a flat-out solid player. If the game is on the line, he'll step up."
The midfield is manned by all-state junior Andrew Phelan and junior Ham Brower, a face-off specialist.
"Andrew is a very scrappy player, and Ham is a workhorse," Renes said.
On defense, sophomores Thomas Gribben and Gavin Howley both made all-state.
"Thomas is a great takeaway defender," Renes said. "We always put him on the other team's No. 1 attackman, and he handles him real well. Gavin has a great stick and is a good ballhandler."
Goalie Connor Simonson has taken over the position after his family moved to Mount Pleasant from Seattle.
"He's really stepped up between the pipes and is a vocal leader," Renes said.
Attackman Carson Horner is a senior captain whose younger sister, Skylar, is a freshman starter on the Wando girls' team that played Bishop England for the Lower State title on Thursday night.
The Horners' parents started the Wando Lacrosse Club that eventually led to the varsity team, and Renes said the thriving youth leagues in Mount Pleasant are a key to the high school teams' success.
"This year, we had 112 kids come out for varsity and junior varsity tryouts," he said. "Every year, the kids come in with talent and their lacrosse IQ is getting better. Better athletes are playing the game, as well."
Wando, top-seeded in the Lower State, defeated Socastee (23-1), Hilton Head (20-3) and Academic Magnet (18-6) en route to the state finals. Fort Mill, top-seeded in the Upper State, knocked off Eastside (14-4), Riverside (16-7) and Greenville (14-6).