By Frankie Mansfield – Moultrie News
The answer began to roll off the tongue of Tod Shepherd before the question was finished being asked. “Are ya’ll trying to build a dynasty?” someone half-jokingly called out to the Wando rugby coach as he exited the pitch at Spring Hill High School. “Too late,” Shepherd shot back with a smile. “We already have one.”
Wando defeated South Greenville 14-12 Saturday in Chapin to win its second straight state championship and third title in four years. One’s never enough though. Just hours after Wando raised the state trophy, the Warriors’ B Team defeated Spring Hill 25-17 in the Division II state championship match. It’s the first time in Wando’s budding program history the Warriors have swept state championships on both the A and B sides.
“It’s incredible when you think about it,” Shepherd said. “It really proves our depth is unparalleled in the state. No one else can win a state championship then put their reserves out there and win the DII championship.”
Wando entered the state final ranked No. 15 in the nation. Across the pitch stood South Greenville, a proud upstate rival the Warriors defeated in last year’s championship game but lost to in the title match the year prior. Nerves struck Wando early. Passing was poor, the line wasn’t fluid, and by the 20th minute, South Greenville earned its first try off a short plunge from Chris Barnes that opened a 5-0 advantage.
“I was a little nervous,” Shepherd said. “The state championship was on the line.”
South Greenville’s score seemingly ignited the Warriors though as senior scrumhalf Charlie van Vliet evened the score with Wandos’ first try 30 seconds later. van Vliet then added the two-point kick conversion and Wando never trailed again. “It was a powerful, dominant 30 seconds of play,” Shepherd said. “I thought, ‘OK boys, we’re awake now.’”
Joe Griffin tacked on Wando’s second try five minutes into the second half. Griffin took a short pass from van Vliet off a ruck and powered across the line for the score. van Vliet added a decisive conversion to extended a 14-5 two-score Warriors lead. “Charlie has been phenomenal for our program,” Shepherd said. “He’s a warrior. You know he’s going to make the conversions and penalty kicks, and that’s our ace in the hole. Kicking was the difference.”
South Greenville missed two penalty kicks and a conversion in the match. Wando received a yellow card penalty with six minutes to play that set South Greenville up in Warriors territory. South Greenville broke through in the final minutes of injury time on a try from Matt Shoemaker, but by then the win was already in hand for Wando.
“Heart and passion made the difference,” Shepherd said. “You could see it in their faces. They put their bodies on the line, literally. A 250-pound guy running at you, it takes a lot of nerve to make that tackle.” Wando’s B Team had little trouble putting away Spring Hill’s A Team in the Division II title game. Joe Frank scored the Warriors’ first try just four minutes into the match. Josh Novak added a second at the 20-minute mark and Michael Goodwin opened a 15-0 advantage just before halftime. Ron Wilder scored at 40 minutes to put Wando ahead 25-0. Spring Hill managed two late tries in the waning minutes as most of the Warriors’’ starters had left the game.
“I can’t say enough about our DII team. So many freshmen and sophomores against their seniors. These are our reserves out there beating the best other schools have,” Shepherd said. “The program is in a really good place right now. We have the infrastructure, parent support. We have a field. We’re ranked. Winning has been important in all of that. Kids want to play for a winner. And we’re expecting to keep winning in the future.”