On a brisk Thursday night in late September, the Riverview and Vincentian Academy boys soccer teams battled well past 10 p.m. on a field lit just well enough by temporary floodlights -- curfews aren't important when section titles are on the line.
Neither side actually dominated the game itself, a tight affair that produced a handful of legitimate chances by both sides. After 100 minutes of soccer -- including two 10-minute overtime periods -- the evening's eventual scoreless draw seemed a reasonable result to share between Section 2-A's top two teams.
While no one who took the field was particularly elated to miss out on three points, the Raiders could point at the game as evidence of how far they've come and what the rest of the season may have in store.
"Absolutely," Riverview coach Mickey Namey said. "We had our chances, they had theirs. It was a great game."
The Raiders fell on the road, 2-0, in their previous meeting this season. That result fit the mold for their early season struggles as they stumbled out of the gates to an 0-4 record while being outscored, 17-5.
"It gave us a reality check, that's for sure," junior midfielder Christian Snyder said.
Since then, the Raiders have begun to realize the potential that had Namey, now in his fifth season with the team, cautiously optimistic in the preseason. They haven't lost a game since their visit to Vincentian Academy and have posted a 7-0-1 mark, outscoring opponents, 30-7, in the process.
The Raiders are 7-4-1 overall, 6-1-1 in Section 2-A and in second place behind Vincentian (9-1-3, 5-0-1).
"There was a point after the first four losses that they realized they needed to put extra time in, to put in extra hustle," Namey said. "Everyone had to buy into that team-first mentality."
Snyder feels the rough start served as a catalyst for the team's turnaround.
"Once we started jelling, we started finding a team spirit," he said. "We started finding who we were going to play the ball to and where, finding those outlet passes, those things we were really looking for throughout the season."
Namey's initial optimism came from returning a talented nucleus of eight starters.
Working out of a 3-5-2 alignment, Riverview is able to pack the middle of the field with strong, skilled players. Junior midfielder Josh Killian acts as an important playmaker while Snyder stands out as a strong, assured presence in a holding midfield role. Billy Futules, also a junior, is key on the back line. Athletic forward Cole Wilson, another junior, leads the attack at forward.
But caution accompanying Namey's optimism was due to a small roster of only 15 varsity players and a pressing need to find a starting goalkeeper.
Sophomore Kyle Moore, though typically a midfielder not a goalkeeper by trade, filled in capably at the position. But the rematch against Vincentian Academy served as the debut appearance in net for junior Ludgar Oelck, a 6-foot German foreign exchange student with nearly a decade of experience in the net. Oelck has not surrendered a goal through his first 180 minutes of WPIAL soccer.
"He's very aggressive, very vocal," Namey said. "You can tell he has a natural ability at the position."
Oelck's arrival allowed Moore to act as the first man off the bench and give a now 17-deep Riverview roster a needed boost of on-field skill.
"It helps us a lot," Namey said. "It lets us put a really solid 12th player on the field."
With so much now going right, Namey feels that this season is as good a time as any for Riverview to break a long section title drought.
"Most schools would be happy to finish second in section play. But we're sick of finishing second, we're sick of finishing third," he said. "I know some teams would love to be in that spot, but we're at the point where we want to start hanging banners. We feel we're good enough now."