RCHS soccer readies for the challenges ahead

Teammates Bennett Eastham, Austin Burnett, Huck Pace and Gary White practice secret hand signals in front of the net. Photo by Amanda Phillips.

The RCHS varsity boys soccer team stands with a 5-3 overall record. Though more than half their season is completed, they have quite a few Bull Run District games yet to play. With an awareness of their challenges and an eye on the future, several of the players paused recently to reveal their Panther pride.

Senior Gary White admitted that the season thus far has been “a little disappointing.” But that is not his focus. “We are working hard.” When pressed to give an individual example of that proclaimed hard work, he added: “I go to practice daily and often stay after to run. At least two or three days a week, I work out on the track or in the gym for extra endurance training.”

White said that his team packs many strengths. “We are really good on defense. Even though there were a couple of scrappy, lucky goals not really earned by the other teams, we are strong there. We’re also building an offense. Trying to find the good combo of people. Some veteran players mixed with some younger players.”

Love of the game is a priceless asset for any team player. That passion is no small ingredient in White. “I’ve been playing soccer since I could walk. Back in Florida, we had a family friend who started kicking the soccer ball with me when I was little.”

Another passionate player, senior Huck Pace, who scored the only goal in a tight, 1-0 win over district rival Madison last Friday, viewed the season as “a progression since last year. Yes, we still need to work on some stuff, but I’m pretty confident about the second half of the season.”

Pace saw the team’s strengths in Rapp’s forwards and in its defense. “I feel completely confident with Austin Burnett back there. Plus, the main core of our team is strong, too.”

When asked to elaborate on what improvements needed to be made, Pace added: “We need to get better with ball movement and using our center mids a little more.”

Overall, optimism was Pace’s outlook. He saw the team as better this year and even commented a bit at his own progress. “Personally, I feel more confident this year. I’m always looking forward to the next game.”

Another of Pace’s teammate, senior Austin Burnett, had a broad view of where his team could be more solid. “One of the biggest obstacles is that we have a lot of players who haven’t played varsity soccer before. The majority of the team was in that position as the season opened. They are adjusting, and we’re starting to get in stride. We are progressing…exponentially.”

As a reflection of that determination to progress, Burnett added his personal determination: “I’m trying to be district keeper of the year. That’s my ultimate goal.”

Senior Bennett Eastham shared a viewpoint similar to his comrades. “We’ve been up and down. We have more talent than we’ve had in a few years, but we haven’t been able to play together the right way. The good news is, the young guys are really starting to step up – it’s definitely happening.”

His goals for the team are familiar ones: “ Let’s all keep working hard and staying positive because we have the right group.”
Eastham shared a personal goal of being selected to first team all district, but he said: “The team is most important. I’d like to see us make it to regionals.”

With these seniors’ optimistic and determined attitudes, the Rapp boys’ soccer team has a chance to make the rest of the season work for the Panther good.

That winning attitude certainly played out last Friday at Rapp when the Madison Moutaineers fell to the Panthers, 1-0.

“What worked?” Huck Paced asked. “Well, we kept the ball out of the net and scored!” Panther defense was much stronger. “We lost Chris Cooper, a starting center back, to a red card in the second half.” That could have a harbinger of doom, but “James White replaced him, and we just locked it in!”

Rapp had several chances to add points, but they only scored once. Pace scored the one goal and credits the opportunity to teamwork. A Mountaineer “had the ball, and I stole it from him. I gave it to Bennett Eastham who faked he was gonna dribble it. When the defender shifted in response to Bennett’s fake, he laid it off to me. I took one touch, and then buried in the back post. The keeper didn’t even move!”

Panthers take their grit onto the field again this week. They face the Strasburg Rams on Friday (May 7) at 7 p.m.

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