Raiders relish first district crown

GREENFORD -The 2013 season for the South Range soccer team has already been historic, and the Raiders look to extend their postseason more today as they battle an unfamiliar opponent Doylestown Chippewa in the Div. III regional semifinals in Twinsburg.

The atmosphere around South Range High School has been electric as noticed by senior Tanner Greene.

“Everyone is pumped up,” Greene said. “We just have all these good teams this year that we normally haven’t had for awhile. It’s just crazy how it’s all happening.”

Junior Jonah Wilson, one of the team’s top defensive players, loves the hometown crowd’s reaction to the games.

“When you go out in the community and people say ‘Do you play for South Range soccer? I saw you play the other day, you did really good,'” Wilson said. “It’s a really good feeling.”

The Raiders (11-4-4) made history by winning their first district championship with a 1-0 win over St. Thomas Aquinas on Saturday.

Only in existence since 2005, the Raider soccer team won four Inter Tri-County League Championships, and went undefeated in 2011 before they were eliminated by Atwater Waterloo in that year’s district semifinals. A district title, however, never happened until now.

South Range coach Alan Styer, who stepped up this season to head coach after five years as an assistant under Bill Wagenhouser, knew there was something special in this year’s team.

“I’ve probably known all year that we have the most talented team we’ve ever had,” Styer said. “We’re young and we’re small, so it’s been a matter of whether or not we can overcome those obstacles, and I think that’s what we have shown for the past two weeks.”

The road to districts, though, got rough in the middle of September. After wins over East Palestine, Jackson-Milton and Columbiana, the Raiders fell into a funk with three straight losses and three straight ties, and, for the first time since 2009, went into the postseason without an ITCL title.

“We hadn’t won for a while,” Greene said. “We just got out of it and just came out on top.”

“Tying East Palestine was quite a downer,” Wilson said. “The games that we lost too were downers as well.”

As it turned out, they didn’t need the ITCL title to be successful. After all, not even the 2011 team made it to regional playoffs, and that team went undefeated in the regular season.

“It feels amazing because we made history for South Range soccer,” Greene said. “We’ll take district champions over ITCL any day.”

“The district champions are all No. 1 seeds in their regions,” Wilson said. “It’s different coming in as second seed and playing these teams.”

The Raiders’ next opponent Doylestown Chippewa is no stranger to regional action, reaching the regional championship in 2011 before falling to Gates Mills Hawken. Chippewa also made a 2009 state semifinal appearance.

The Chipps (16-0-3) have given up just nine goals all season and can prove to be a threat for the Raiders.

Wednesday will mark the first meeting ever between the teams, and neither Greene nor Wilson know what to expect.

“Our concerns are how well they punt the ball, who are key players, how are they on defense,” Greene said. “We have to pick out their strong marks.”

“Their record is 16-0 which could mean something, but then again it could not,” Wilson said. “They could be really good and face other teams that could be really good in their district so they have that record, but you never know.”

As it turns out, the soccer team will play around the same time as the South Range volleyball team. The volleyball team’s Div. III regional semifinal match with Wooster Triway also takes place Wednesday evening in Barberton.

Assistant coach Joe Staffeld hopes that just as many people can see the soccer team play as the volleyball team.

“Volleyball is a very popular sport,” Staffeld said. “You have to count in the parents and grandparents, and then the student body. That’s a coin toss. I hope we each get half of the student body.”

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. today at Twinsburg High School.