Riverview’s coaches described the first days of preseason workouts as something of a boot camp, a back-to-basics exercise.
Given the team’s youth, the approach was necessary.
The Raiders enter the season with a talented but raw group after the graduation of nine senior starters, not to mention the departure of coach Andrew Kariotis, who took the boys soccer job at Burrell.
“We emphasized (fundamentals) strongly,” said coach Sean Abraham, who took over for Kariotis after six seasons as assistant. “That was the whole week of preseason. There was a lot of soccer 101, just teaching girls the proper technique, proper movement. Those are some of the things we had to touch upon. It’s getting into (the season). Luckily we had our scrimmages spread out.”
A consistent WPIAL playoff team with five consecutive postseason appearances, Riverview nonetheless has work to do to get back this season. It starts with filling the void left behind by graduations with a less experienced group. The Raiders have just three seniors and thus will rely more heavily on their junior, sophomore and even freshman classes this season.
“We lost a lot of our starters, but there’s girls willing to step up who are ready to practice for varsity,” sophomore goalkeeper Alyssa Cappa said. “I think we’re a very athletic team, and we have a lot of girls who are willing to put the work in, put the effort in and are just willing to be out there and put their heart on the field.”
What the Raiders lack in experience they hope to make up for in other areas, like athleticism and communication. With the small size of the school community, many of the players already know each other well even with age differences.
It also made summer workouts that much more important.
“We had to look to see who worked best together and how we could all fit together as a brand-new team,” senior forward/midfielder Mairead Hill said. “Some of these girls, the freshmen I’ve never played with before because they’re so young. It’s good because I like working with them. They’re sweet girls.”
In addition to twice-weekly CrossFit workouts, Riverview played pickup games against the school’s boys soccer team, which lies on the opposite end of the spectrum with 11 seniors on its roster.
“They’re really good, but I thought it was a good challenge for our team,” freshman midfielder Eleni Wyrick said.
“It showed us, watching them, what we should do because they would cut and do different plays. It would show us where we should be. And it’s a good challenge because of the size difference, too — they’re a lot bigger and faster and stronger. But we hung with them pretty well.”
Given the loss of nine starters, several players will step into new roles. Cappa takes over in goal, a position she first played last season in Riverview’s first-round playoff loss to Vincentian.
“It was nerve-wracking, honestly,” said Cappa, who enhanced her goalkeeping skills in the offseason at Pittsburgh Indoor Sports Academy. “I felt confident enough to keep the goals from going in, but I was also nervous because I’m a younger kid going in for the first time playing goalie. The pressure was on.”
Abraham said the midfield should be a strength, with Wyrick and sophomores Francesca Lio and Gillian Gaynor among the players who can step in there. Hill and junior Izzy Komaniak can play both midfield and forward, and junior Madison Sink is a top defender.
“We’re actually sitting pretty good,” Abraham said. “(There’s) a lot of athleticism.”
Riverview will compete in Section 1-A with Apollo-Ridge, Greensburg Central Catholic, Jeannette, Serra Catholic, Shady Side Academy and St. Joseph. GCC and Shady Side have combined to win all seven WPIAL Class A titles since the classification was formed in 2010.
“I would like for them to come out strong right out of the gate, see what they can do,” Abraham said. “I think as time goes on throughout the season, they’re going to improve and become stronger as the season progresses. … It’s kind of knocking the rust off, getting the girls used to moving together and playing together. So I think as the season progresses, they’ll get stronger and better.”