Rebuilding CR soccer team on winning streak

CAMDEN — After losing nine seniors from last year’s squad, Darrell Gravatt knew his Caesar Rodney High boys’ soccer team had some rebuilding to do.

But the veteran coach didn’t realize just how much retooling the Riders needed until they started the season 0-3.

It’s the first time that CR has opened with three straight losses in recent memory.

“We came out of the gate this year a little slower than normal,” said Gravatt. “We just weren’t quite ready. I’ll take the blame for that. I didn’t put the pieces together quick enough.

“And we’re still working on that. But we are definitely getting better, there’s no question about it. We’re heading north.”

Indeed, when the Riders blanked Woodbridge, 6-0, on Monday, it was their fourth win in a row. At 4-3, they now have a winning record for the first time this season.

CR (0-1 in the North) will try to get its first Henlopen North victory on Thursday when it hosts Sussex Tech at 5:30 p.m.

The Riders’ leaders say nobody panicked during that 0-3 start. Along with graduating nine seniors from last year’s 11-5 squad, CR has just four seniors on this year’s roster.

“Most of us are really young,” said senior co-captain Markland Bailey. “So it was kind of tough for the coaches to put it together quickly. But we found it.”

Certainly part of the reason for the Riders’ slow start was their tough schedule. CR started out with games against perennial state powers Wilmington Charter and Indian River.

On the other hand, the Riders’ third loss of the season was a 3-2 setback to Sussex Central — a squad that CR beat 7-2 the year before. The Riders trailed 3-0 in that North matchup before netting a pair of late goals.

“That definitely woke us up,” said Bailey.

One of the changes Gravatt made to the lineup was moving Bailey from forward to center back.

After scoring just three goals in their first three games, the Riders have tallied 28 goals in their last four contests. CR’s scoring leaders in those four victories are senior Ricardo Hernandez (11 goals, 4 assists), junior Thomas McPoyle (6 goals, 3 assists), junior Steven Ferrandino (5 goals, 4 assists) and David Haynes (2 goals, 3 assists).

This is Hernandez’ first year as a starter.

“Losing three straight games, you knew it wasn’t comfortable,” said the senior co-captain. “But once we changed those things up, things started getting right. Winning four straight games so far is pretty good.”

Bailey said he didn’t mind making the big change in position.

“It wasn’t working, so why not move me?” said Bailey, who’s been on defense for the last four games. “I love it back there, it’s amazing.”

Gravatt said the Riders are still very much a work in progress as they look for the right combinations.

“Almost every game it’s been a different lineup, a different look,” said Gravatt. “We keep trying to change things. We’re getting closer to maybe our best lineup.

“We were not panicking but we were definitely concerned about our slow start. It’s a different team, a different year. We’re trying to right the ship and we’re getting better.”

It’s still pretty early in the season. CR has eight regular-season games remaining.

While winning the Henlopen North title is a little more difficult with one division loss already, most of CR’s goals are still attainable. The Riders have made the state tournament every year since at least 2007.

“There’s a lot of games left,” said Gravatt. “We can have a great season, there’s no question about it. We’ll see. We’ve got some great guys, working hard.”

“We’re confident we can still do it,” said Bailey. “It’s not too late. We’re halfway through the season. Anything is possible.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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