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Sports: Former WHS player takes charge of girls soccer

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

With nine goals in hand, but only five showing on the scoreboard, and the referees agreeing to shave 10 minutes from the second half clock, the first home soccer match of the season for the Waccamaw High girls varsity showed that little has changed for the Warriors.

Unless you count the new head coach.

But for a new coach, Joel Sapp has spent more time on Warrior Field than many at Waccamaw High. He started in 1998, as an eighth-grader. After graduating in 2002, he returned for the 2004 season as assistant coach on the girls varsity, which was coached that year by his mother, Darcy Graham, a math teacher at Waccamaw.

That was a hiatus between studies at Limestone College and Winthrop University. But he was back in 2008 as assistant to Ben Schoen, his former coach on the boys varsity.

Sapp replaces Brian Brennan, who coached the WHS girls to their 2010 state championship. Brennan moved to Charleston after last season.

The broader landscape of Waccamaw soccer has changed little since Sapp was a player. Bishop England and Academic Magnet remain the teams to beat for the boys and girls.

But Sapp now has the challenge of running the girls program as well as coaching the team.

“The biggest challenge is the playing style,” Sapp said. For the boys, it’s a physical game. For the girls, “it’s more of a mental game.”

He has coached a girls under-16 club team, and has several of those players on the varsity this year.

The state championship team included a core of senior players who had been together on a club team since grade school. Their graduation left the Warriors in a rebuilding mode even as the team continued to dominate the region. They finished 11-6-1 last year with quality wins over Socastee and Carolina Forest, but lost to St. James and Myrtle Beach. They fell 8-1 to Academic Magnet, which went on to win the Lower State title in Class AA with a 6-0 win over Bishop England.

The Bishops beat Magnet 3-2 last week. “I think we’re right there,” Sapp said.

Waccamaw is ranked fourth in Class AA by the S.C. Soccer Coaches Association.

“I think Joel’s going to take the girls program to a new level,” Schoen said.

Sapp has made the transition from player to assistant to friend to something like a younger brother, Schoen added. “We were more like co-coaches.” He is helping Sapp make the adjustment by handling some management chores for the girls.

The girls have one senior and four juniors on the roster. But the freshmen and sophomores have experience playing year-round, something that has changed since Sapp’s days on the field.

“Those younger players have the fire to get in the box and get their head on the ball,” he said.

That means the Warriors will try to make better use of corner kicks than they did in the past. Those set pieces weren’t as important in the days when the team could count on dominant forwards to score. Sapp says his team won’t let any scoring opportunities go to waste. That made last week’s region opener at Aynor particularly frustrating, with 38 shots by the Warriors accounting for just three goals.

He told the team to finish off Loris early in last week’s home opener. They obliged with three goals apiece by forwards Rachel Thornton and Jessica Preedom. They will start up top in the 4-4-2 scheme.

The captain and lone senior, Martha Henry, will hold down the right side of the midfield with Tabor Cooper, Virginia Brock and Hannah Bezdek playing to her left.

Lydia Krask and Blakely Wright are the central defenders. Morgan Welch and Sarah Ellerbe will be on the wings.

Haley McNeese, a sophomore, returns to goal.

“The sophomores and freshmen are going to be our strength for years to come,” Sapp said. And he plans to be around. He’s taking classes a Coastal Carolina University with the goal of becoming a physical education teacher.

His own assistant is another former player, Callie Dennis. She graduated the year before the team won the state championship.

“She wanted to come back and help Waccamaw,” Sapp said. “She never got that state championship. She wants one just like I do.”

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