For a team with three seniors on their rosters and eight sophomore starters, described by their coach as a “glorified JV team playing a varsity schedule” due to their sheer inexperience, Atlee boys soccer couldn’t have asked for a tougher start to their season.
They began with losses to two new Conference 11 foes with 5A State Championship title hopes: Mills Godwin (2-0) and Deep Run (5-1), then fell 1-0 in their home opener to rival Hanover, another young team looking for their footing.
At 0-3, it made the Raiders’ trip to Glen Allen Friday night close to a must-win to find some stability, some momentum to Steve Thompson’s young squad. But it did not start well.
The Jaguars, in their home opener, couldn’t stop the Raiders from attacking and grabbing field position advantage, but were lethal when they visited the Raiders’ zone early. Moses Woogerd cashed in on a breakaway opportunity for Glen Allen’s first goal 8:19 into the contest. Seven minutes later, a free kick sent in front of the Raiders’ goal was headed in by Bryce Hills for a 2-0 advantage.
Atlee dominated offensive opportunity, but went to the half down by two.
“We try to play a possession-type game normally, and Glen Allen gave us space, so we used it to our advantage,” Thompson said. “But we didn’t do a good job utilizing that advantage in the first half.”
The adjustment to change that? Slow things down and use what is given to you. Then, enter the Atlee youth movement.
Junior Aaron Kulinowski, a non-factor in the first half, asserted himself into the action, putting Atlee on the board on a rebound off Glen Allen goalkeeper Sean Blackwell in the 54th minute.
Fourteen minutes later, given the same opportunity, Kulinowski sent the ball back into the net off a rebound. The game was tied. It stayed that way into stoppage time, overtime seeming inevitable.
But in front of his own bench, sophomore midfielder Brandon Rinderle got the ball and room enough to send a drive toward the net. Like a PGA golfer sends a chip shot from the fairway in for an eagle, Rinderle’s touch was perfect, sending the ball deftly over the outstretched arms of Blackwell into the top right corner of the goal for the 3-2 lead.
“I actually tried to curl it to the far post, but instead it was a chip shot, but it went right over the goalie’s fingers,” Rinderle explained. “I actually practice that shot quite a bit. Most of my goals come like that.”
Forty seconds later, the whistle blew and the Raiders were winless no more.
“I told the team once we get that first win under our belt, it’s just like a monkey lifted off your back,” Thompson opined. “We’ll go on from there.”
Atlee was scheduled to face Varina Tuesday, but the game was postponed, not due to Monday’s heavy rains, but to an illness that swept through the Varina team, leaving them unable to field a full squad. The Raiders next go to Henrico Thursday evening. The Warriors fell 2-0 to Lee-Davis in Mechanicsville Tuesday night.