Indian Land boys’ soccer coach Adam Cole showed up to his team’s final practice ahead of Saturday’s Class AA state title game with a trophy in tow.
“This is not a good feeling,” he told his team, gathered around the Warriors’ state final runners-up trophy from last year.
Indian Land got thumped 5-0 by Academic Magnet in last year’s championship. This year, the Warriors (19-4) face Academic’s crosstown rival, Bishop England (16-7-1), at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Gilbert High School. The humbling lessons of last year’s final were still being addressed Friday.
“We were a young team, inexperienced, it was our first time ever going to state and it was just a culture shock for them,” said Cole. “This year, the kids know what to expect.”
With eight seniors back, Indian Land should be ready from the opening whistle – against a Bishop England side going for its state-record 16th championship.
“They’re going in there probably expecting to win,” Cole said. “It’s just something they do.”
The Bishops’ seven losses this year all came to teams that were state-ranked, including two regular-season losses to Academic Magnet. But Bishop England got the cruelest revenge earlier this week, knocking the Raptors out of the tournament on penalty kicks, and scrapping a possible rematch of last year’s final.
The Warriors will have to make do with a very good Bishops squad that’s led by all-state selections Joel Bunting, Drew Costa and Nick Saunders. Bunting, a freshman, and Costa do the business up front for a Bishop England squad that likes to go route one, as opposed to possessing the ball. The Bishops’ high defensive pressure in the opponent’s half has left their defense largely unscathed recently; Ed Khouri’s club has allowed only one goal in its last four matches after surrendering roughly two goals per outing during the regular season.
Indian Land has been equally as stingy of late, outscoring opponents 13-1 en route to the final. The Warriors allowed 23 goals this season in as many games, despite starting three underclassmen in the back. Matthew Medlock (freshman), Mason Mullis (freshman), Shea Rogers (sophomore) and Will Medlock (senior) man the back four, with Trevor Boxworth (senior) providing experience and good size between the pipes.
“This is the best defensive team we’ve had since the program started here,” said Cole. “They’re a young bunch but they’ve all played together in club. They’re up to the challenge.”
The Warriors are explosive at the other end of the pitch. All-state pair Anthony Cutrone and Nick Retter (North-South selection) have combined for over 50 goals this season with help from fellow senior Eric Sandor.
After showing off the second place trophy and the accompanying silver medal Friday, Cole read off scouting reports from a number of local coaches whose teams faced Bishop England this season. It sounded like a lopsided match in Indian Land’s favor on paper, but last year’s experience schooled the Warriors.
“I think the kids are ready,” Cole said. “It’s all about showing up.”
Bret McCormick • 329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T