Defense has Gryphons soccer off to fast start
By PATRICK MASON
Wednesday, September 4, 2019
When Rocky Mount High boys’ soccer coach Andrew Nick addressed his team before the season began, he presented the group with two numbers — 59 and 26.
“My first day I said to the kids, ‘What’s 59?’ And they all looked at me and I told them that’s how many goals that were scored against you last year,” Nick said. “Then I said, ‘What’s 26?’ I told them that’s how many goals you scored. I said, ‘We’re going to change that.’”
The Gryphons are well on their way to flipping those numbers as the team is off to a hot start. The Gryphons just recorded their fourth shutout this season with Tuesday’s 5-0 road win over Nash Central.
RMH took command of the match early by scoring five goals in the first half, before turning the match over to a group of defenders that are proving tough to mount an attack against
Through five matches this season, RMH (4-0-1) is unbeaten and has allowed just two goals. For comparison, the Gryphons allowed 22 goals and suffered four losses over the same five-match stretch to open the season last year.
Common opponents over that same window have seen a tougher RMH squad, one that is scoring more often and allowing fewer goals. The Gryphons lost to Nash Central and Greenville Rose by a combined score of 7-2 last year. In 2019, RMH has a 5-0 win over the Bulldogs and tied with Rose, 0-0, on Aug. 29.
“This year has a different feeling,” Gryphons sweeper Ben Sieracki said. “Coming in, we know that we can do some damage. And when we’re playing we realize we’re in it. We’re happy with the tie (against Rose) because we get destroyed every year. But this year we even felt like we should have won that game.”
The resurgence comes on the heels of the arrival of Nick, who is back for a second stint as the head coach of the Gryphons. He first coached the Gryphons from 2008 to the 2014-15 school year. During his four years off from the sidelines he said he always made sure to keep up with the program.
He followed along with the wins and losses, the ups and downs, and said it was hard to give up his program.
When the Gryphons coaching job became available once thee-year coach Richard Oxendine retired, Nick found himself able to return and he didn’t hesitate to come back.
“I never really wanted to give up my program but sometimes family takes precedent,” Nick said. “And now I’m in a position to be able to return. I’ve missed it, it’s all I can say.”
Nick thought that this Gryphons roster would benefit from changing its formation to get the most out of the players. RMH plays out of a diamond formation, which stresses the importance of the sweeper position, where Sieracki plays.
Goalkeeper Lucas Martinez, a senior starting his second year in net, has watched his teammates’ development unfold in front of him each match. The only two goals allowed this season came on Aug. 27 on the road against Roanoke Rapids in a 6-2 win.
“It’s just a lot of communication and hard work,” Martinez said. “We’ve gotten better defensively since the preseason and it’s because we’re building on our chemistry and figuring out where to be. It’s all starting to click now.
“And our coach brings a new sense of confidence to the team. When we’re playing some of the bigger teams we feel like we can compete and win and that’s a nice mentality to have.”
RMH has five more non-conference matches before getting in to Big East Conference play. The Gryphons haven’t had a winning season in at least eight seasons, and this year’s group is determined to change that.
“We opened some eyes a little bit and we have to keep that going,” Nick said. “We don’t want to be reserved, but keep going and just keep focused. We have only two goals scored against us and things are clicking for us. I hope we can maintain that momentum the rest of non-conference and into conference as well.”