Veteran RHS Senior Class Hopes to Make Deep Postseason Run
The Lady Raiders are no strangers to top competition after taking home the District 11-A/AA regular season crown last season despite having one of the district’s lowest enrollment totals.
In 2017, Richland will see a district schedule of schools with similar demographics after joining the newly created Single-A classification where one of the program’s most decorated senior classes hopes to make the school’s first state tournament appearance.
Richland enters its first year in District 10-A where the team will play a five-game district schedule of Columbia Academy, Grace Christian-Franklin, Culleoka, East Hickman and Hickman County. Although the future of the Lady Raiders’ series against private schools CA and Grace Christian is in doubt after a recent school board decision, the program has secured permission to play the teams in the regular season at least one final time in 2017.
RHS head coach George Witt said that he believes the two schools will be Richland’s top competition for the district title, but he currently feels his team is out front with a talented roster of upperclassmen with freshmen and sophomores filling key roles.
RHS is once again running a 4-3-3 alignment after the graduation of senior forward Sarahevelyn Corlew who went on to sign with Martin Methodist College as well as Maria Rifkin a starting defender. Witt said the team wants to get its fullbacks more involved in set plays to help pin the ball in opponents’ defensive third with more intensity on the ball this year.
Junior Hope Calahan returns for her fourth season as the program’s starting goalie after playing up as an eighth grader. Calahan has earned multiple all-district accolades and is already believed to be near the top of the school’s all-time records in several key categories including wins, saves and shoutouts in goal.
On the defensive side, seniors Mary Taylor Lee and Tiffany Slaton return once again as starters at centerback and fullback, respectively. The two are joined on defense by former transfer Kendall Mitchell and a pair of freshmen looking to secure early playing time in Taylor Childress and Sydney McClure.
The midfield returns four players with starting experience led by senior Lindsey Owens, a three-time all-district player who scored 25 goals last season and is credited with 62 for her career entering her final year. Witt said Owens, an olympic development player, coming through the Richland program led to all of the team’s players working harder and praised her for her unselfish attitude and concern for her teammates. He joked that one factor that may stand in the way of Owens’ pursuit of 100 career goals is the new mercy rule, which will be instituted this year as matches will end once a team takes an eight-goal lead.
Joining Owens in the midfield are Lexy Edwards, Carli Garcia and Katie Stevenson.
At the top of the formation, senior Audrey Briggs looks to build on a strong career that has already seen the speedy striker net multiple hat tricks. Sophomore Emma Ray Rifkin will enter what is technically her second year as a starter after she started nearly half the season in 2016 due to an injury to Corlew. Rifkin will also handle many of the team’s corner kicks.
Witt added that he has been impressed with the growth of returning starting forward Bethany Gomillion, while the team also adds its third exchange student in recent years with the addition of Daniela Nardelli, although Nardelli was reported to have broken her foot in the first scrimmage and could miss much of the season. Freshman Lexy Waldran also saw extended minutes at the position in the recent scrimmage against Giles County, although the coach said position groups have not been finalized.
According to Witt, conditioning will be key for this year’s team as Richland also looks to improve its offensive consistency behind a “rock solid” defense.
Richland finished last season 13-2-1 with a 9-0-1 record as district champs, and the senior class finds itsself just 14 wins away from reaching 50 during the players’ four-year run. One thing that has thus far escaped the Lady Raiders is a deep postseason run as the program reached the regional tournament only once in the last decade in Class A/AA. Under its new classification, the team hopes to end the recent trend, preparing for a late season push with a strong regular season schedule.
Read more of this story in this week’s PULASKI CITIZEN, available in markets across Giles County and in digital and traditional newspaper formats by subscription.