RIDLEY TWP. >> Ridley’s seniors were four or five years old the last time the Green Raiders saw a new head coach.
Granted, in Ridley, that might mean that they’d already had a stick in their hands for two years, but nonetheless, they grew up through the Ridley youth program with visions of playing for Kevin Ellers. Ellers, an All-American as a Green Raider, was at the helm of the team for 13 years before stepping down last August.
The program didn’t stray far from its roots in finding Ellers’ replacement, though, and a lengthy search ended when longtime assistant and captain of Ridley’s 2001 state championship team Rory Friel took the job. To some, elevating an assistant didn’t seem like a huge move, but to many, it’s made a big difference.
Take Saturday’s 13-6 rout of Downingtown West, for example. Six players scored for the Green Raiders (2-2), led by Marquette signee Cade Stratton’s five goals and an assist. In his short time, Friel has brought in a bit of a different mindset, as well as a new offensive coordinator in former Great Valley head coach Tony Verna. It’s going to take some time — Ridley lost convincingly to Central League powers Strath Haven and Radnor this week — but the win over the Whippets showed the potential that Ridley has.
Friel “is a community role model. His family has left a legacy here for as long as I can remember. My parents told me about him,” said midfielder Devon Tavani, a Navy commit. “I’m really excited. Even before he was the head coach, as an assistant, we were really excited to have him as part of the crew, and as head coach, it’s the best thing for our team.”
Ridley hadn’t been able to reach its levels of former glory in recent years, especially on the offensive side of things, and while it’s a stretch to expect that from this year’s team, there’s little doubt in the players’ minds that the program is on the right path.
“It’s been a lot better than last year. We had a lot of distractions last year,” Stratton said. “We have to have everyone guessing at all times offensively. We’re wasting ourselves if we’re standing still in the game and it doesn’t help but the defense, because they don’t have to slide or do anything if we’re not moving off-ball. That’s been a big transition for us coming into the season.”
Goals came early and often from Ridley after Downingtown West’s Steven Long kicked off the scoring 66 seconds into the game. Jimmy McGarrigle tallied twice in the opening quarter, and by halftime, the Green Raiders had also gotten tallies from Stratton, Tavani, Zane Johnston and Brock Anderson en route to building up an 8-3 lead. The offense definitely kept the Whippets’ defense guessing, but it was also the play of goalie George Santilla that kept Downingtown West (0-3) at bay. The senior stopped 10 shots, including three impressive saves within a minute-long penalty in the half’s last minute to stymie the Whippets.
“We were excited about the Great Valley win, and another game like this to get the second-string guys back in and excited again is a good motivator for everybody,” Tavani said. “We’re just trying to focus on ourselves right now and not worry about anybody else and just do what we’re supposed to do.”
The Green Raiders surprised the Whippets a bit by locking Long off early and often. The midfielder was frequently accompanied by a short-stick midfielder wherever he went, and that wrinkle threw Downingtown West off a little bit. Shea Dougherty still managed to put together a hat trick to pace the Whippets.
“They tried pressing out more and they locked (Long) off, so we had to move more off-ball and set picks,” Dougherty said. “That got us more looks. We had to shoot high on him because he was seeing everything low. I must have had 12 shots in his stick in the first half. Once we adjusted and started shooting high, I found a way to score. I was really surprised because the first few times, he was so quick on the ground. He was always covering five-hole, which is somewhere I’m always looking. I usually don’t shoot high, so I had to adjust.”
It doesn’t get much easier for the Whippets, not with back-to-back dates with District One AAA contenders Downingtown East and Conestoga on the schedule this week. As for Ridley, the Green Raiders will give Central League play another shot this week with games against Penncrest and Harriton, and from there, who knows?
“We really needed this. We played terrible throughout this week,” Stratton said. “It’s good to have a game where we can take control. Being able to win a game like this gives us a lot of confidence.”
In other nonleague action:
Haverford high 9, W.C. Rustin 2 >> Jack Daly scored four goals and Luke McCallion and Nick Dilorio each added two goals and an assist for the Fords, who outscored the visiting Warriors, 7-0, in the second half. Alex Mckendry chipped in a goal and an assist, while goalie Dan Tierney made four saves.