To speak to Ernie Suozzi about his Hilton Head Island girls soccer program is to hear a constant refrain: peaking at the right time.
Suozzi has made the philosophy work for him to this point, winning each of the last four Class 3-A state championships. The Seahawks are on the verge of a fifth and will face Dreher on Friday evening at River Bluff High School in Lexington in a battle for top honors.
Many coaches fall back on the one-game-at-a-time mentality. Suozzi's vision has some of that, but his approach works on a more big-picture scale.
"It's not how you start, it's how you finish," Suozzi said earlier this postseason.
How he's finished over the previous half a decade has more than justified his methods, which include not worrying as much about early-season contests in the name of getting the little -- and big -- things right. He tests his team, almost as a scientist would test several hypotheses, in the laboratory that is pre-region play.
"We experiment with a lot of things," Suozzi said. "We prepare what we do and try to make sure that's done right. It's really trying to minimize the self-inflicted wounds."
It's the best way to combat the constant turnover native to high school athletics, when seniors graduate and a constant wave of new faces arrive to take their place. This year, the Seahawks are spearheaded by striker Rebecca Johnston, who has turned into a goal-scoring machine in the playoffs, and center midfielder Jamie Danzel. Both were named to the all-state squad this week.
In Dreher, Hilton Head will face a team that has outscored four Upper State opponents 28-1 but scraped by Chapin in a tight match to advance to the title game.
Dreher (20-2) has handled a pair of common opponents this season. The Blue Devils dominated North Myrtle Beach, 8-0, the team Hilton Head beat in a comfortable 3-0 second-round match last week. The Seahawks' opponents in the Lower State final, Brookland-Cayce, fell 5-0 to Dreher in March; the Seahawks beat the Bearcats 4-1 on Monday.
Dreher's last, and only, girls soccer state championship came in 2003. The Seahawks will enter with plenty of confidence and history on their side.
The game begins at 5 p.m. at River Bluff High.
Follow sports reporter Kendall Salter at twitter.com/IPBG_Kendall.