New Grove boys soccer coach Jacob Hardesty isn’t exactly a stranger to those who have followed the game locally over the years.

Hardesty starred for the Ridgerunners on the pitch in the mid-2000s before graduating in 2007 and playing four years at Oklahoma Wesleyan University.

Hardesty returned to Grove as an assistant coach last year before being promoted to the head position for the 2013 season. He inherits a program on the upswing. After going 4-9 in 2011, the Ridgerunners bounced back to post a 9-5 mark last year, winning their final three games over Tahlequah, Tulsa Central and Tulsa Memorial – the last one a 2-1 overtime win at home to end the season.

The three-game winning streak came on the heels of a four-game losing streak in which Grove was shut out three times and scored just one goal total despite playing evenly or better than their opponents for long stretches. So far in the preseason, scoring goals hasn’t been a problem, as the Ridgerunners have netted nearly 30 in two tournaments so far.

Hardesty hopes that continued success at the varsity level will help continue to grow the game at all levels locally.

“Grove’s enthusiasm for soccer is exponentially growing. It’s exciting for me to come back to my hometown and share the passion I have for the game with these kids. Since the YMCA has taken over the local youth programs, they are seeing record numbers signing up to play.”

The Grand Lake Family YMCA currently has youth soccer for kids ages 4 to 10 and will begin play of Mar. 30 at the Grove Sports Complex. There are also a number of local teams for older players.

“Some of the older teams are traveling all over the state competing in tournaments and showcases,” Hardesty said.

The rookie head coach hopes that some of that enthusiasm for the game will translate into increased attendance at Ridgerunner Stadium when the GHS soccer teams begin their seasons. The opening game will be Mar. 8 at Miami while the home opener will be Mar. 12 against NOAH. In all, the Ridgerunners will have four home games this season.

“We hope to have the younger players come out and watch the high school team,” Hardesty said. “They would be able to see the skills needed to become great players and the extra support would be great for the high school teams.”

Other home dates for the Ridgerunners in 2013 include Coweta on Mar. 28, Tahlequah on Apr. 12 and Tulsa Central on Apr. 16.