Royal Knights Build A Tradition
From the looks of it - back-to-back district titles, a Sunshine Athletic Conference championship and an 18-1-1 record a season ago - you might never know that the River Ridge girls soccer team battles many of the same problems its opponents do. The Royal Knights must deal with a depleted early-season roster due to fall sports commitments and the juggling of lineups incorporating substitute players that ensues. The cohesion and game instincts that normally develop from years of playing together must be secured in just a few practices and above all, an early-season slide must be avoided so as not to ruin a season before it begins. Then again, not many teams have the talent to draw from that River Ridge does. 'We all go through the same things,' River Ridge coach Skip Glover said. 'We have seniors that have been playing together since they were freshmen, but many of them won't be on the field for us at the beginning of the season. We're missing defenders and I usually build from the back with our best players. For now, we'll fill out the roster with a couple of younger girls until the varsity can come back.'The first two weeks it's a bit of patchwork.' Glover and the Royal Knights have more than handled the challenge, most notably last season when they followed an undefeated regular season with a pair of postseason titles. Still, for all the outstanding play from a season ago, one game sticks out most in the coach's head. River Ridge fell to Bloomingdale 5-2 in a first-round regional match that the coach insists was much closer than the final score. It's this lone blemish on an otherwise unmatched season that the coach will turn to should there be any need for motivation. 'Last year, I think we expected a little more of ourselves at the end,' Glover said. 'I know we were disappointed in the way the season ended, so I'll use that as motivation every chance I get.' The Royal Knights lost a quartet of talented players in Meagan Hill, Jessica Hay, Stephanie Ferrara and Kim Giarrantano, but still return more than enough talent to post an even better season. Senior forward Deana Rossi, a 30-goal scorer since her freshman season, has been River Ridge's most potent offensive threat, and again is joined by sophomore forward Mikaela Morolla, who finished with double-digit goals and assists as a freshman. Glover said the presence of Morolla up front forces opponents to defend two dangerous scoring threats and takes a lot of the pressure off Rossi to carry the load. 'When those two are up top working in tandem,' Glover said, 'they're a tough duo.' Seniors Nicole Whittle, Kaleigh Patri and stellar goalie Brittany Hahn also return to form the nucleus of an ultra-talented team. A season ago, Hahn recorded a 0.42 goals-against average and finished with 12 shutouts. Knowing the Royal Knights will be missing veteran players early, especially at defensive positions, Glover will count on Hahn even more during the early stages of the season. Now all that's left is surpassing the lofty precedent River Ridge set last season. 'Our goal is always to win the district title, but this year, we'd like to make a run at regionals and I think we have a chance,' Glover said. 'I'm pretty lucky here, because the players bring a lot of talent with them and that allows me to focus on the big picture. I can't take credit for how good they are and what we're finding is they realize they can build a tradition at this school that will carry on. The older girls have taken that on and the younger girls realize what they have a chance to do not only now, but in the future.' For River Ridge, that means a lot more victories.
Correspondent Chris Errington can be reached at email@example.com.