It is not often that a coach has just the right number of talented players go out for a team, but for R-MA Middle School Soccer Coach Chris Peter, that is just what happened this year. Not only did every player who tried out make the team, but every one of them, both boys and girls, played a significant amount of time throughout the season.
While acknowledging that this was definitely one reason the 2017 season was special, Coach Peter pointed out several other factors as well. “First, we had at least eight kids step into leadership roles,” he said, naming Jiseong Choi ‘23, Minjun Choi ’22, Minjoon “Michael” Kim ’22, Luke Habiby ‘22, Nnamdi Odom ‘23, Sophia Wagner ‘23, Cecilia Paredes ’22, and Alex Self ’22 as all leading by example. “Second, R-MA established a solid connection with ROX Soccer, a travel soccer program in Front Royal. We had two players complete a dual season, playing with both R-MA and ROX. These players were captains on my team and main contributors to ROX. We also had a scrimmage against them that was really fun for the boys. Third, the girls saw massive development due to playing alongside and competing against the boys.”
Heading into the Valley Middle School Conference Championship Tournament on a confident note, Randolph-Macon Academy Middle School played their first playoff game against Wakefield Country Day School at home. The match began with Odom assisting Nethaneel Loolo ’23 in the first goal of the night. Paredes followed up with a blast into the upper 90 of the net and then scored again with an assist from Habiby, making the score 3-0 in favor of the Jackets. R-MA continued to dominate the game in the first half with Ben Badejo ’22 assisting Loolo with his second goal. Then Habiby scored his first unassisted goal, putting the Jackets up 5-0. After the half, Habiby assisted Minjun Choi with his first goal and Kim assisted Ugo Odom ’23 with his first goal, putting the Jackets up 7-0. The Owls followed up with their only two goals of the night. Finally, Rick Banerjee ’22 assisted Badejo with his second goal to end the game with a final score of 8-2 Jackets.
From there, it was on to the VMSC Championship game against Chelsea Academy. The Jackets believed going into it that it would be a tough match, as they had lost a game to Chelsea during the regular season. They were right, but this tenacious group of young people rose to the challenge. Early in the game, Chelsea pulled ahead on a free kick outside the penalty area, and that was the only score of the first half. R-MA was down 1-0 at halftime. The Jackets came out strong after the break and Badejo poked a shot past Chelsea goalkeeper Michael Miller to tie the game 1-1. Shortly after, Kim shot a beautifully placed free kick from 25 yards out that sailed past the keeper and into the back of the net for a 2-1 lead—although Kim later said it wasn’t intended to be a scoring attempt.
“I got a lucky goal,” he admitted. “It was supposed to be a pass, but it turned out to be a goal. I was surprised.”
That “lucky goal” helped to keep up the Jackets’ spirits as Jerome Siegel of Chelsea tied the game 2-2 with his second free kick from outside the penalty area. That, however, was all Chelsea was going to manage against Wagner, R-MA’s goalie, who was called “the perfect goalie” by Kim.
R-MA rallied with a breakaway goal from Habiby. The fourth and final R-MA goal came at the final whistle when Gabe Hutto ‘22 blasted a left-footed shot in off a cross from Habiby. With that, R-MA claimed the VMSC Championship title with a score of 4-2.
“The boys and girls played with so much enthusiasm, excitement and energy on the field,” said Coach Peter. “The players worked hard and showed true dedication to this game.”
“This was definitely a highlight of the season because we beat them, and they’re a hard team,” said Wagner. “We lost the first game like four to zero.”
Like their coaches, the players recognized that this game was not won on what happened only during that championship game.
“We worked as a team and developed our skills,” Kim said in explaining their win. “Mr. Peter was a good coach, and Mrs. [Stephanie] Wagner was a good assistant coach.”
“We all get along together,” agreed Minjun. “There was no one getting mad at each other. If someone did something wrong, we said, ‘It’s okay, you can do better next time.’”
That supportive attitude pervaded the entire season, helping the athletes to build their skills and their confidence. “Overall, I have appreciated their desire to learn. It was a pleasure to watch them grow as a team this season,” said Coach Peter.