The R-MA Middle School Soccer Team was intensely competitive this fall, taking the fight all the way to the championship game against cross-town rival Chelsea Academy. Although they came up short in that game, the Yellow Jackets still walked away with their heads held high and the Valley Middle School Conference Runners-Up trophy in-hand. Most important, however, was the growth that head coach Chris Peter saw in his athletes during the season, and the leadership displayed by his eighth grade students.
“I’m happy with what we did this year,” Peter said. “The most progress that was made overall was through leadership. I had eighth graders performing leadership roles throughout the entire season, and they were extraordinary. From lining the guys up outside of the gym and taking them down to the field themselves, looking at equipment, getting equipment ready to take down to the field, running the actual warm-ups down on the field, we had all these eighth graders leading the charge.”
Peter needed his more experienced athletes to step up in this manner. As is standard for R-MA, some of the players had little to no experience in soccer. Rather than cut anyone, Peter kept every athlete and did his best to teach them the basics in an efficient but swift manner, knowing that during the season, his team would be facing the likes of Chelsea—schools who had much more experienced athletes on their rosters. In spite of that, every player on the team got game time.
“We had a great season,” said Jiseong Choi ‘23. “Playing against Chelsea was hard, but mentally, I think we developed as a team, as a group.” Choi himself learned a lot about leadership, saying that he came to understand that being kind and cordial was more effective than yelling at his fellow athletes.
“We had good sportsmanship, good practices, good camaraderie out there,” said Peter. That combination was a winning on—amidst games cancelled due to rain and unsafe playing fields, the team defeated every team they played except for Chelsea. And that was without their star player, Nnamdi Odom, who moved up to play varsity this season. In spite of the fact that this move may have cost them the championship, there was no doubt in Peter’s mind that it was the right move.
“In looking at that, do we want a championship, or do we want Nnamdi to have experience at the Upper School and really get to understanding what he needs to do in the future?” Peter asked rhetorically. Nnamdi went onto start every game and scored goals on the varsity level as well.
“He started regularly and was very flexible,” said R-MA Varsity Soccer Head Coach Stephen Latham P’18. “He can play defensive midfield to break up the attack and launch us forward, but perhaps his most exciting impact is when he gets to play on right wing. In one game away at Fredericksburg Academy in particular, he scored two goals, I believe, and assisted another as we scored five goals to win away. He has a great attitude and I would often say that the players on the other team would be astonished to know a 13-year-old was getting the better of them.”
“I think I matured physically as a player and also mentally,” stated Nnamdi. “I built a real bond with the players at the Upper School. I got to play against bigger people and knowing that I can compete at that level has boosted my confidence in sports in general, not just soccer.”
“I feel that move was a success,” Peter said simply. In fact, the hole Nnamdi left actually had a profoundly positive effect on the team, because every other player had to strive harder and improve faster to help move the team towards success. Peter pointed out that Nnamdi’s twin brother, Ugo, was particularly impacted. “Ugo was able to step into the role that was void and he became a captain and really took on a role of his own,” said Peter.
As his group of eighth grade stars move onto the Upper School next year, Peter can watch with satisfaction, knowing that he has done his best to lay a strong foundation for R-MA soccer.