Lexington - After unceremoniously losing in the second round of last year's Class AAAA state playoffs, the Wando boys soccer team found a way back to the top this year.
Wando closed out a 29-1-1 season with a 2-0 win over J.L. Mann to claim the state championship, the school's second title in four years and sixth overall.
J.L. Mann, ranked No. 1 in the latest state soccer poll, finished with a 27-2 record, both losses coming to Wando.
"Last year really taught us a valuable lesson about never taking anything for granted," said Wando coach Shilo Tisdale, who led Wando to state titles in 2011 and 2012. "I think we were looking ahead to Thursday last year and we never got past Tuesday. I think this team stayed very focused this year, especially in the playoffs.
"We did a great job of taking one at a time all season long against a very difficult schedule and I really believe playing teams like (Class A state champion) St. Joseph's twice, (Class AA state champion) Academic Magnet and J.L. Mann twice, it really forced us to focus and stay sharp."
The Warriors got first-half goals from Tucker Heffron and Jackson Karolczyk to gain control of the match heading into the break.
Heffron's goal came in the fifth minute and establishing early confidence was important, according to Tisdale.
"Such a huge momentum boost because you know in a game like this, you won't get many chances," said Tisdale. "To put one away that quick allowed us to really play with confidence. Every game in the playoffs, we had early opportunities to set the tone and we were able to do that. There's no question scoring early is a big advantage."
Karolczyk's score, a rebounded boot off a header, came in the 34th minute of play and allowed Wando to go into defensive mode and avoid a big mistake.
Wando beat J.L. Mann earlier this season, handing the Patriots their only loss of the regular season. Tisdale knew that for his team to have a chance of winning, they would have to control J.L. Mann's top offensive threat, senior forward Keaton Hinze.
"The plan was to stay organized in the back because Keaton Hinze is very good and they had several players that we had to keep an eye on, very good players," said Tisdale. "We did a good job of not letting Keaton loose too often and we kept our shape. Each of our players understood what their role was and played together. It was a true team victory and I am very proud of them.
"(J.L. Mann is) an outstanding team and we just had to stick to the plan and stay disciplined and we knew if we did, we had a great opportunity to win."
Wando outshot the Patriots, 11-7, and Wando junior keeper Jon Milligan recorded four saves.
Coach Shilo Tisdale and Wando celebrate after winning the Class AAAA boys soccer state championship Saturday.×