For the fourth consecutive year, the Academic Magnet girls soccer team will play for the Class AA-A state championship after winning the Lower State title on Monday with a 3-0 victory over rival Bishop England at Ravenel Stadium.
The Raptors won state titles in 2011 and 2013 and will seek to repeat as state champions on Friday against Christ Church, a 4-0 winner over St. Joseph's in the Upper State finals. The state final is set for 3 p.m. Friday at River Bluff High School in Lexington.
"This is a lot of new players, and we did not enter this season thinking about last year," said Raptors coach Anna Merriman. "Our goal was for this team to achieve as much as it could this year. I am very proud of this group of girls. They played so well together and they earned their chance to play for a state championship."
Academic Magnet beat Bishop England twice this season in close games, winning 2-1 and 1-0. Bishop England came into the Lower State finals riding a wave of momentum after a come from behind win over Waccamaw.
Merriman told her team that scoring quickly would be paramount, and the Raptors responded with a goal in the second minute of the game by Emma Coen.
"Our first goal in every game is to score early, in the first five minutes, because we want to be the team that sets the tone," said Merriman. "Tonight, it was really big for us to score quickly. We got lucky early and I think maybe it took some wind out of their sails. We seemed to relax and played very well the rest of the night."
The third matchup would not be as close. The Raptors scored again in the 14th minute as Jesse Dooley assisted Alexis Polycn, who headed in a goal past Bishop England keeper Logan Leask.
Six minutes later, Shani Mueller booted a long kick deep into the scoring area and Leask and a Bishop England defender appeared to be confused and aided the ball across the scoring line.
Up 3-0, the Raptors dictated play for most of the second half and cruised to victory.
The championship match is Friday afternoon at River Bluff High School in Lexington on a turf field. Merriman will have her team practice this week at a turf field at The Citadel in preparation for the different surface.
"Some of our girls have played club ball on turf but it is very different," said the coach. "The game is faster and the turf gets pretty hot on the feet. We will do our best to prepare and hopefully we can bring another title back to Academic Magnet."