WHEN BOB Taylor first met the Chapin High girls soccer team four years ago as the new coach, he told those players they would win a state championship.
The Eagles nearly realized that dream Friday night in the Class 3A title game. So, moments after Hilton Head Island captured its fourth consecutive state crown with a 1-0 victory, Taylor addressed his team.
“Keep your heads up,” he told them as several players fought back tears. “You guys have had an amazing season. We were that close.”
With that, Taylor held up his right hand, the thumb and index finger nearly touching.
“That close,” he repeated.
The difference was Hilton Head Island’s Green twins, Ashley who set up the game’s only goal with a perfect pass to Amanda, who buried a shot in the lower corner of the goal at 48 minutes.
Even though Hilton Head Island held a 16-7 shots-on-goal advantage, Chapin proved once again it could play on the same level with the state’s top teams, having previously dispatched powerhouses Greenville and Eastside en route to the championship game.
Taylor is no stranger to state championship contests, although Friday’s game represented his first as a girls coach. He directed Chapin to Class 2A boys soccer runners-up finishes in 1997 and 1999.
Taylor experienced much more success in wrestling, leading Chapin to Class 2A state championships in 1994, 1997 and 1998, with a runner-up finish in 1995. He also served as the Irmo wrestling coach from 2001-06.
Although soccer and wrestling seem like an odd link for a coaching career, Taylor said there are correlations between the two sports.
“I think that soccer, in its purest sense, is an individual sport,” he said. “The more you work on your individual skills, the better you are and the better your overall team is going to be. It’s kind of like wrestling. In both, if you work at your own individual skills, you can do whatever you want to do.”
This represented the third state championship game for the Chapin girls. Under different coaches, Chapin lost Class 2A titles to Bishop England in 2000 and 2004.
During this preseason, Taylor believed his team had a chance to be where it was Friday.
“I’m kind of a positive person,” he said. “I think I’m going to win it any year we go into it, but I really knew this team had what it would take.”
In his first three seasons coaching the Chapin girls, Taylor said they often played close against the stronger, sometimes larger, programs in the area such as Irmo, Dutch Fork and Lexington but seemed to come up short.
This season – with experienced and talented players in Sara Corning, Jordan Dawsey, Kate Harrington and Maggie Copeland – Taylor introduced a new theme for the team: “Believe we can play with everyone.”
A home win against Irmo and another victory against Dreher when Chapin twice came back from a goal down had the Eagles believing during the regular season. They were on their way, culminating with 3-2 playoff wins against Greenville and Eastside to reach the championship game.
Prior to Friday’s game, on a nearby practice field at River Bluff High, the team sported neon green T-shirts during warm-up drills with “Lights Up” emblazoned across the front. The slogan was to remind players that believing in themselves got them this far and their lights could not be knocked out.
Those lights were only dimmed with the championship game loss. Afterward, Chapin realized it was “this close,” to winning a state title. Nevertheless, the Eagles proved they belonged.