Slight smiles spread across the faces of the Wando lacrosse team when they heard the news that a familiar foe awaited in the state championship game.
“We’re very excited to face Fort Mill,” Wando coach Lance Renes said. “We know them. They know us. It’s exactly what we wanted.”
Defending state champion Wando powered past Bishop England, 14-2, Tuesday in the Lower State title game. Meanwhile, Fort Mill edged Nation Ford, 10-7, in the Upper State final. It’s the fourth consecutive year the two will collide in the state championship game, set for Saturday at Chapin High School.
“We’ve definitely been there before with them,” Wando senior defender Thomas Gribben said. “We know how it feels to lose to them and how good it feels to celebrate when we win. There’s no better feeling than that.”
It’s the fifth straight year Wando (16-2) has advanced to the state championship game. Bishop England, who finishes its best season ever at 14-3 overall, was playing for its first bid.
The Bishops controlled possession through the opening minutes but once Wando found its first taste, the feeding frenzy was on. Four minutes into the first quarter, Riley Seay scooped a ground ball deep in Wando territory and flipped the field to find Zach Bauer for the icebreaker.
Wando piled on seven more goals from five different players before halftime. By the end of the first quarter, the Warriors were putting on a show. With seconds left in the quarter, Bauer lobbed up a pass for Sam Weis who flew horizontal through the air for the acrobatic score.
“They definitely feed off each other,” Renes said. “It takes one good shot to get things going and it’s all business from there. When one guys clicks, another guy clicks, that’s a good sign.”
Bishop England’s offense was hampered by the loss of junior attack Andrew Pizzo, one of the state’s leading scorers. To make things tougher, Wando junior David Gottesman was a wall in goal, corralling four saves in the first quarter and three more in the second.
“Their goalie was playing so well, it starts to feel like the levee’s never going to break,” Bishop England coach Jonathan Davis said. “Normally you can find matchups on the field but they’re so athletic and disciplined, the windows to score are very, very small.”
It took Bishop England nearly nine minutes to get off its first shot attempt of the second half. Michael Gaffney broke the shutout with Wando playing a man down and Gottesman watching from the sideline a minute into the fourth quarter. Colin Reich added the Bishops’ second goal with a deflection off the post nearly two minutes later.
Seay, Jack Davies and Ryan Lipsky each finished with three goals, while Weis added two.
Wando defeated Fort Mill 13-6 in last year’ state title game and opened this season with a 15-5 road win over the Yellowjackets. The Warriors pride themselves on controlling the state and Renes says anything less than a win on Saturday would be a shortcoming.
“We’re at the point in our program that to prove our validity we have to win the state championship,” Renes said. “We’ve had a great season but it doesn’t mean anything unless we win state and continue to prove ourselves as one of the top teams in the Southeast.”