Guy Ellis

The Grove Ridgerunners soccer teams are set to open regular season play this evening in Stilwell. The teams have been in scrimmages since the early part of February and both the boys and girls squad participated in a pre-season tournament in Tahlequah last month. Today’s games will be the first of ten that the Ridgerunner squads will play this season. Grove makes its home debut Tuesday March 11 against Poteau. Soccer games are played at the football stadium.

At the Tahlequah pre-season tournament the boys team put together a 1-2 record. Following that run the boys’ team traveled to Pryor and defeated the Tigers in a scrimmage that was held in arctic-like conditions.

2008 will mark the seventh year for the soccer program at Grove. The Ridgerunners soccer teams are listed as Class 4A by OSSAA this season. In prior seasons the program was entered in Class 5A. The move to the 4A Class was welcome news to both head coaches.

“We’ve dropped down to 4A which helps us,” girls head coach Kellie Roedenbeck said. “If you don’t live within thirty minutes of Tulsa or Oklahoma City and have kids that play competitively year-round it’s very difficult (to compete with the 5A schools).”

Coach Roedenbeck enters her seventh year as head coach of the girls’ team. This season Coach Roedenbeck has 24 players on the roster. The Lady Red soccer team had a record of 2-8 last season.

“Our goal last year was not to get run-ruled, which is 10-0, and we did that,” Roedenbeck said. “This year our goal is to go at least .500 and playoffs might be a possibility.”

Many of the Lady Red’s games last year ended in shoot-outs, which is the soccer equivalent of overtime. That the games entered into a shoot-out is a strong indicator of the defensive prowess of last year’s team.

Senior Katy Schreiber is returning for her fourth year on the squad and is mentioned by Coach Roedenbeck as a key player. Senior Felicia Sawyers is returning for her second year and has made great improvement in her form according to the coach.

“We have two freshmen who are going to come in and make an immediate impact,” Roedenbeck said. “Blair Thomas, she plays competitive out of Tulsa, and Shae Scott is a freshman that comes in with experience so that helps us.”

Juniors Kamie Sager and Bailee Tullis are also expected to have a major presence with the team this season.

Dr. Robert Thomas is assisting Coach Roedenbeck this season.

“Dr. Thomas has a good knowledge of soccer,” Coach Roedenbeck said. “He says that this (helping with the team) is relaxation for him.”

Coach Roedenbeck and her troops are looking forward to the coming season.

“Once you get involved in it the kids just become addicted to it. It’s so much like basketball; there’s ball handling, passing, shooting, you’re just using your feet. It’s a great conditioning sport.”

Coach Sean Botts is entering his first year as head coach of the boys team after assisting for the previous six seasons.

“I coached my kids youth league teams and that’s how I got interested in doing this,” Coach Botts said.

The Grove team has posted records of 4-6 for the previous two seasons.

“Our goal this year is to have a winning record and qualify for the playoffs,” Coach Botts said.

Last season the Ridgerunners set some impressive milestones. Grove enjoyed a win over Pryor, by a score of 5-0, for the first time in the history of the program. Also for the first time the Ridgerunners had two players make All-State honors.

The Grove team has lost its top three scorers from last season to graduation but optimism remains high for the coming year.

“Last year our weakness was not being able to finish games strongly. We didn’t cash in on our opportunities to score like we should have. So far it’s looked better in our scrimmages. Our depth is better this year,” said Coach Botts.

One of the key players for this season will be senior Jeremy Hicks, known as “Toad” by his teammates. Hicks has moved from the defender position to forward this year.

Senior Wade Unruh and senior Evan Robinson were also mentioned by Coach Botts as likely heavy contributors. Senior Takaya Iwasaki is a foreign exchange student that could also become an impact player for the Ridgerunners.

Junior Jon Meggyes will be the starting goalie for the Ridgerunners with senior Troy Howerton, fresh from basketball season, providing stable relief for that position. Fellow basketball teammate Reid Harding, a junior, is a likely starter with speed and scoring ability. Sophomore Adam Hardesty also laces up the soccer cleats this spring after a long winter of basketball and will be a fixture in the Grove rotation this season.

To many in the community soccer may be an alien sport. A thumbnail sketch of the game is that it is played on a field 110 yards long. The width of the field may vary from 55 yards to 75 yards depending on the locale. Games are broken up into two 40-minute halves. Each team fields 10 players plus a goalie. Athletes are not allowed to use their hands for contact with the ball save for the goalie; but even that position has a limited area in which hand-use is allowable.

Something that might come as a surprise to those new to the sport is just how physical the game play is. Players bump and hit and collide often in attempting to gain possession of the ball and they do so with little protection excepting shin guards and kneepads; the act is called “side-tackling”. “Headers” is when a player uses the head to move the ball and it is an exciting feat to witness.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the sport is that there are 54 local youths involved in it and they are all quite keen about the activity. Soccer toils in the shadow of the major stick and ball sports but the athleticism and skill required to play, not to mention the enthusiasm of the participants, are the equal of any sporting endeavor.