For a team playing under their third coach in the last 12 months, the Porter-Gaud boys soccer team is faring much better than expected.
The Cyclones will play for the SCISA Class AAA state title Saturday, taking on perennial powerhouse Cardinal Newman at 5 p.m. at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School.
In the Class AAA girls state championship game, Pinewood Prep faces Hilton Head Christian at 3 p.m.
Porter-Gaud's boys program also rates as one of the top programs in SCISA, but the trek that the 2014 Cyclones has made to the finals has been, in a word, eventful.
The current coach, Juan Roncancio, took over the program in mid-March, after first-year coach Enrique Rodriguez moved to Atlanta less than a month into the season. Rodriguez was hired away from area rival Pinewood Prep to replace last year's coach, Jeff Hoerner, who also moved to Atlanta last summer.
Roncancio, a local club coach and longtime friend of Rodriguez, thought he was helping his friend as an assistant coach at Porter-Gaud. He ended up being the head coach, throwing the program into a little turmoil.
"In my first meeting with the team, I told them that sometimes life throws you a curve, but how you handle that adversity is how you build character as a person," Roncancio said. "I wasn't really sure how I would be accepted. I told them to raise their hand if they wanted to go to the state finals with me. I told them I planned on being there and if they wanted to join me, they had to raise their hand. All of them raised their hand and we just went to work."
The Cyclones did plenty of work and enter the state finals with a 21-3-1 record. There have been a few bumps in the road along the journey, but Roncancio says his team gets a little better with each game.
"These guys took what could have been a disaster and turned it into a great season," said the coach. "I don't deserve any of the credit. It's all about them coming together, learning a new way to play, and gaining trust and confidence in this old man and in each other."
The coach credits his seven seniors with holding the team together, but says younger members of the team have stepped up as well. Among the key performers this spring are senior forward Aidan Hekker, senior midfielder Cory Umstead, and sophomore backs Harris Krogh and Shep Davis.
Pinewood Prep's appearance in the AAA girls' title game might be a bit more of a surprise. With a young team, coach Gail Osborne's squad went 17-1-3 this season, upsetting Cardinal Newman by 2-1 in the semifinals Thursday.
"We were underdogs for sure, out of the picture for the last two or three years," said Osborne, in her 10th season at Pinewood Prep. "But the players believed we could get here. They saw the whole season as being the road to state."
Sophomore forward Charlotte Ring is the top scorer with more than 40 goals this season. Osborne called her "an incredible player with passion and determination, and an awareness of the game you just can't teach."
Sophomore Katie Black and junior Sarai Bowman have held together the midfield, with sophomore Samantha Hilleshiem a strong presence in the back. Kaley Katsanis has provided senior leadership, Osborne said.
Pinewood Prep and Hilton Head Christian split two games during the season and shared the region title, so the title game should be close.
"I don't think anyone believed these two teams would meet in the final," Osborne said.