CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- George Washington is nothing if not resilient.
The Patriots, the defending Class AAA state champions, started the season with huge holes all over the field after seven starters graduated. Then it took GW coach Tom Hopper 15 games to hit on the starting lineup. The Patriots then showed their mettle in winning their sectional and regional by identical 1-0 scores.
GW (16-5-2) now finds itself on the cusp of playing for another title when it begins play Tuesday in the boys state soccer tournament semifinals at the YMCA Youth Sports Complex in Beckley. (See Page 2B for pairings and schedule.)
"For a bit there it looked like it wasn't going to happen,'' Hopper said. "I think we found a way to score a goal or two, our defense is getting a lot stronger and that's helped tremendously. If you're going to be playing good soccer, this is the time to be playing it.''
The Patriots, who finished sixth in the final state coaches association rankings, won their first three games then encountered a rough patch, going 3-3-1 over the next seven games.
"It took us a while to figure out where we were going to put everybody,'' said Hopper, who guided the Patriots to their first title in 2007. "By the 10th game we thought we had it and didn't, and we had to keep making a few more changes.
"I think it was kind of a shock for us that it took so long. The season was almost over before we felt like we settled in. It was difficult because some of [the returning players] haven't had much playing time with the varsity and others none. It took our kids a little while to adjust, I think.''
GW seemed to be on track with a seven-game unbeaten streak, but then dropped back-to-back games to No. 2 Huntington 3-0 and 3-1 toward the end of the season. Since then the Patriots have won four straight, including a 1-0 win over No. 7 South Charleston on penalty kicks in the sectional final and a 1-0 triumph against No. 20 Woodrow Wilson in the regionals.