The Rams are off to a hot start in 2019.
Riverview High girls soccer coach Edgar Marquez is surprised by his team's start to the season.
Usually that means things have not gone the way a coach wanted, but for the Rams, the surprise has been a pleasant one. Riverview (2-1-2) has dropped just one game with a 19-player squad that includes 10 sophomores and freshmen. That handily beats last year's 1-4-0 start with a more experienced group.
The inexperience of the team is something Marquez said he was curious about during preseason practices. Sometimes new blood can infuse a greater sense of energy, and that is what has occurred. Marquez said he was struck by his young players' passing ability, which he considers a foundational skill within his system.
He's not settling for good, though. Marquez believes his team can reach even greater heights.
"There are stages where they do the stuff that we work on on practice," Marquez said. "I like their passing game. They can connect between five and ten passes together and move the ball around. The team looks great and space is opened up. I just think they can do that during the whole game not just for stages of the game."
The Rams' movement helps the most on defense. The less time opposing players have the ball, the less chance they have to score, after all. Riverview's ability to play "keep away" has limited opponents to two goals through five games. Junior defender Barbara Harper has had a big hand in that. Marquez said Harper, who plays forward in club soccer, has been "amazing" thus far, with her speed and ball control big factors in corralling loose balls and clearing them out of danger.
Marquez also complimented junior midfielder Sam Bickell and freshman forward Amelia Malkin on their early-season play, with Bickell contributing her ability to read plays and make good decisions with the ball, and Malkin netting five goals.
When Riverview needs senior leadership, there are still players who can offer it. The Rams have four seniors, including forward Sofia Genta, who scored twice in the team's 6-0 road win against Sarasota High on Dec. 3. Genta, too, said she was surprised by the team's start, and credits it to how fast the team has come together in the locker room.
"We haven't even been together that long, but we have bonded," Genta said. "We have so many freshmen and sophomores that have stepped up and become key parts of the team. I am so proud of how everyone has done. I think we can go far. I think we can get back to regionals."
The Rams haven't advanced to regionals since Genta's freshman season, thanks to a tough district that once included strong programs such as Lakewood Ranch High and Manatee High. Thanks to changes in format, Riverview is now in Class 7A, District 8. Lakewood Ranch moved with them, but now the Rams are positioned against Newsome, Durant, Lennard and (Hillsborough) Riverview. Since two teams advance to regionals, the Rams have a shot at making it once again — as long as they continue to progress like Marquez believes they can.