RIDLEY — For years, Wayne McKinney tried to plot a path back to his alma mater. It seemed he'd coached just about everywhere but Ridley High School in his three decades on the touchline.
He'd made his tour of high schools (Strath Haven, Sun Valley and Malvern Prep), colleges (Swarthmore, Ursinus and Immaculata) and clubs throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania. But things came full circle last year when he took charge at his alma mater.
It was a rough opening season for McKinney and the Green Raiders, but it seems they've put things together this season, complete with a five-game winning streak and a 6-1 record through Monday. They've exceeded last year's total for wins in the Central League (one) and overall (four).
"I'm having a great time,' said McKinney, who is continuing the theme of a family atmosphere by having his son Marc serve as an assistant coach. "It's something I always wanted to do, come back and give to the program and be a Green Raider again. I can see the pride inside the players that we're trying to instill.'
What McKinney and his Green Raiders are benefitting from are two crops of successful Ridley United club teams on his senior- and sophomore-laden team.
The former group is at the heart of their resurgence. The senior central midfield pair of Andrew Kelly and Tim Rudy are simply "soccer rats,' in McKinney's words: Players champing at the bit to compete indoors, outdoors, wherever. Rudy's twin Tyler, who's starred at left back, and central defender Tim Furman have composed the spine to a stingy defense.
The defense is in support of Pat O'Neill, who split time between the posts a season ago but has come to earn the starting job. He's given up just one goal in three Central League matches, a fluky late goal for their only defeat against Strath Haven.
The goal-scoring load has been primarily shouldered by Romario Elbasani, who is among the county leaders with seven tallies this season.
"Romario has really stepped up here,' McKinney said. "He's one of those kinds of strikers who's very determined and very serious about what he does. He just didn't get the results he wanted last year. ... I think it's just maturity. He's just matured into the player that he knows he can be, and as a striker it's come out for him.'
McKinney isn't just managing and developing talent. What he's trying to do with what could become a special class is turn around the culture of a program that has fallen on hard times. Ridley soccer hasn't been associated with success in recent years, but McKinney is hoping that is in the process of changing. They got a significant nonleague result over the weekend with a 1-0 win over Avon Grove, a team that Central League rivals Radnor could only draw, and have laid vital groundwork toward a districts bid.
They also have a coach in McKinney who knows firsthand what a step of that magnitude takes.
"I was on the team in 1969 that won the Eastern Regional, and there wasn't a state championship back then because there wasn't a western region,' McKinney said. "If you won the Eastern Regional, you were pretty much the state champs.
"We're telling them there is a history, and trying to help them make history of their own. If we were to possibly finish into the get into districts, that would be quite an accomplishment and that is our goal.'
The early-season jitters are out of the way for most teams. But what isn't always settled are the goalkeeping situations around the county.
Take the Penncrest girls, for instance.
Time has been shared between Kayla Allen and Brittany Kashner in net as neither has yet taken control of the starting job. And it's possible that promising JV goalkeeper Brittany Hickman could get some minutes, further muddying the picture.
Many of the goals the Lions have surrendered this year have been off set pieces, and head coach Mario Bono is looking for someone to curtail that.
"We're looking for someone to step up and carry the team, and even when they make mistakes, give some accountability in net,' the first-year coach said. "...We need leadership and command in the box, especially on set plays. We know they have the ability, we're just trying to find the hot hand.'
Then there's a situation like the Springfield boys, where graduated All-Delco Dave Sousa's gloves appear to be too large for one player to carry.
Coach Jason Piombino had unquestionably looked to Sousa since his sophomore year to be the guy, but this season has had to adjust with a pair of goalkeepers with no varsity experience.
Sophomore Mike Gerzabeck has the bigger upside, a shot-stopper who perhaps has the advantage in terms of goalkeeping instincts. But junior Tyler Ranieri brings intriguing athleticism and, in Piombino's words, "more of a goalie stature' that has warranted a good long look.
The Springfield coach is happy with what he's gotten from both, so don't expect the time-sharing system to change soon.
"We're kind of just going to keep going, and each guy will get some time,' he said. "I think Mike gets the benefit of the doubt; he hasn't done anything to lose hold of that lead he has, and when Tyler's gotten in, he hasn't done anything to warrant him not getting another chance.'
Chichester boys coach Jim Curry has looked forward to the day that he could have a full team at his disposal. That came last Thursday in a big way.
It's been over a year that Adam Youseff, Jared Sullivan and Austin Wilson have been part of the Eagles program, but for a variety of reasons, they haven't been on the field together. Sullivan missed time last year with an ankle injury, while off-field issues also intervened for the trio.
The result Thursday against Glen Mills was making up for lost time in a 7-0 win. Youseff, a junior, recorded a hat trick. Sullivan posted a brace, and Wilson checked in with two goals while setting up the other five. Sullivan and Wilson are just sophomores.
It bodes well moving forward for an Eagles team that has had trouble finishing matches — take last week's 1-0 loss to Academy Park, for instance — in a crowded Del Val League field.
Daily Times Super 7
1. Strath Haven (5-1-0)
2. Episcopal Academy (6-2-1)
3. Garnet Valley (4-3-1)
4. Agnes Irwin (5-1-0)
5. Notre Dame (6-0-0)
6. Haverford (5-1-0)
7. Cardinal O'Hara (3-3-1)
1. Haverford School (4-3-0)
2. Strath Haven (4-3-0)
3. Springfield (3-4-0)
4. Ridley (6-1-0)
5. Radnor (4-2-3)
6. Garnet Valley (3-3-1)
7. Sun Valley (5-3-0)