Kicking a way to victory – An in depth look into Wando’s undefeated girls’ soccer team

Camryn Teder, Co-Writing Editor

The turf is rough yet familiar beneath the bottom of their cleats. It’s the end of the game, tensions are high, perspiration dripping from their foreheads, stretched in concentration.

She kicks, she scores, another win under their belt.

For the Wando girls soccer team, this is nothing new. The team knows how to deal with winning.

Boasting an impressive 16-0-1 record, the girls’ soccer team has exceeded this year’s expectations. As they head undefeated into playoffs, Coach Shannon Champ credits the team’s hard work for their success.

“It feels great…to be undefeated, the girls…definitely deserve it. It’s a lot of pressure to keep going that long in a season without losing a game,” Champ said.

It feels great…to be undefeated, the girls…definitely deserve it. It’s a lot of pressure to keep going that long in a season without losing a game”

— Coach Shannon Champ

Despite a sustained high level of play all season, Champ said the team is “peaking at the right time.”

“If we can continue on the path of growing and continuing to improve each and every game, I’ve got every bit of confidence that the team is capable of winning the state championship,” Champ said.

In order to get to the state championship, Champ and the team look to navigate the pressure packed nature of the playoffs. Senior co-captain and goalkeeper, Maggie Van Thullenar, backstops the team with her near historic play.

As her regular season winds down, Van Thullenar stands at 61 shutouts, or games without a goal allowed, over her high school career. This feat puts her just four games away from tying the South Carolina Girls Soccer record for shutouts over a four year high school period.

Despite the team nature of soccer, the burden for a loss can often find its way onto the shoulder of the goalkeeper.

Dealing with this pressure can be a challenge but, being the superstitious type, Van Thullenar manages the pressure in an amalgamation of her own interesting pre game rituals.

“I always put my left sock on first then my right sock then my left shoe then my right shoe, I always put my left glove on then my right glove, it’s weird,” she said.

Having a unique way of getting dressed is not unheard of in the realm of goalkeeper superstitions.

“I always drink a Mountain Dew before the game, it helps to pump me up a little bit, we also have a playlist that we play and then obviously we do all of our normal stretching and warm ups,” Van Thullenar said.

Pregame tunes are a normal part of sports, they set the competitive mood. Stretching is about as vanilla of a pre-game warm up as they come. The same cannot be said for the Mountain Dew, though. Downing a soft drink before competing is definitely not in most athletes playbooks, but for Van Thullenar, it works.

In addition to the meticulous preparation that goes into getting her to the field, Van Thullenar also has to deal with the ups and downs of the game.

“I get in the zone and…I’m focused on my team and my team only. On the field you could be yelling at me as loud as you possibly can in the stands and I [won’t] hear it,” Van Thullenar said.

The team is more than just a goalkeeper, though, and the leadership that captains like Van Thullenar provide is just as valuable as their impressive play. With a roster comprised of a third underclassmen, the captains bring a level of experience not possessed by the admittedly young team.

“We have the big sister little sister thing going on because we have a lot of younger girls this year. We have a lot of freshmen who look up to our seniors and we have a lot of juniors that are leading by example too” Van Thullenar added.

The culmination of this is a team that is on board with coaching and team leadership and consistently works together to win. Senior co-captain and center forward Sami Meredith said this is what separates the Wando girls soccer team from everybody else.

Allison Hipes
Senior co-captain and center forward Sami Meredith looks for the ball in a game vs. Bishop England.

“I really love the team chemistry we all seem to get along and were all just on the same page and want to work hard for the same goals,” Meredith said.

I really love the team chemistry we all seem to get along and were all just on the same page and want to work hard for the same goals”

— Sami Meredith

As of now the girls’ soccer team is enjoying its success this season. With warranted confidence, they are maintaining focused while still having fun. Coach Champ added that their April 10 game vs Stratford high school “was pretty fun.”

“It was our third game in three days and I took a very much hands off approach, I let the girls organize and coach themselves,” she said. “It was a hoot, they mocked me in a great way and gave some good coaching points and sounded very similar to me which I think is a good thing because that means that they’re actually listening to what I’m saying.”

Getting caught up in winning can be intoxicating for both players and coaches. But the instant gratification of a short term win can distract even the most disciplined from their main goal, which for this team is a state championship.

“We’re bitter about last year. we lost in lower state in double overtime versus Lexington, so we weren’t real happy about that,” Van Thullenar said. “All the pent up aggression we have from losing last year was put into this season and we use it as motivation to win the state championship.”