Raiders Rise: Savannah Christian Soccer Teams Set Sights High for the Season Ahead

By Nathan Domintz/Special to Prep Sports Report | February 19, 2024

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Savannah Christian Boys Preview


Boys Soccer Soars:  Gear Up for Intense Season

Savannah Christian’s Garrett Menke brings experience as the former head coach of the Savannah Clovers men’s soccer club.

He’s tasked with taking the Raiders, who won 13 games including a state playoff match last year, to another level.

“I play a high-possession, high-press game, really high intensity as well,” Menke said at the inaugural Optim Orthopedics/Prep Sports Report Soccer Media Day on Feb. 3.

“So I bring a little more intensity to practice, really change the level of play, bring it up,” Menke continued. “Really bring the team together, make sure we’re connecting on all fronts and then growing from there.”

The coach and players are getting used to each other and the style of play. They like the way the team is coming together.

“We play a very possessive style, different than a lot of teams in Savannah,” said Reid Hampton, a junior attack midfielder. “More of a European style, trying to get it to all phases instead of just booting it up long. Playing through the midfield, playing through our wingers.”

Hampton said going into the season that the team was playing well, but “our weakness is probably the transitions, going from offense to defense or from defense to offense.”

Another area to work on, according to senior center back Kaden Cheatham, is getting players more experience, “but that’s going to come through games.”

Jackson Smith, a junior defensive midfielder, agreed.

“We need to get more game time in,” Smith said. “We’re not very deep. We don’t have too many people we can plug in and trust, but we’re getting there.”

The Raiders graduated seven seniors, Menke said. Among the standouts were Alex Nieto (15 goals, five assists), Jase Pearce (two, eight), Thomas Bradley (two, one) and goalkeeper JT Gard (0.98 goals-against average, 133 saves, eight shutouts).

Among the core players on the current squad are Cheatham, Smith, Hampton and junior center midfielder Brodie Williams (10 goals, two assists last season).

Williams sees a lot of individual talent as well as very good team chemistry, which he said is important as depth could be an issue with so many younger players on the roster.

“You can see the connections we make, how easy it is to find passes and our trust with our teammates,” Williams said.

Cheatham mentioned a couple of players to watch this season: goalie Eric Pobo Ordonez and freshman Jake Hendrix.

The Raiders went 13-3-1 last season, 4-2 in Region 3-3A. They beat the Academy of Richmond County 4-1 in the opening round of the GHSA Class 3A playoffs before falling to Pike County 6-1.

Cheatham said Pike County was very good, “and we were less disciplined. We were more of a kickball team last year. We didn’t have good games against region teams, but I feel better about this year.”


Savannah Christian Girls Preview


Looking to Make Noise: Savannah Christian Girls Soccer Team Aims for Playoff Redemption

Devin Knight wants the Savannah Christian girls soccer team to “make some noise” this season.

Knight is in his fourth year as head coach and sixth year with the program. He views the 2023 campaign as a missed opportunity. The Raiders went 8-8 overall, 3-4 for fifth in Region 3-3A and missed qualifying for GHSA Class 3A state playoffs.

“It was a disappointing result for us,” Knight said at the inaugural Optim Orthopedics/Prep Sports Report Soccer Media Day on Feb. 3.

“Our goal was to be the first team in years within the girls soccer program to go to the state playoffs in back-to-back years,” he continued. “Unfortunately, we had a letdown game against (fourth-place) Long County (a 2-0 road loss on March 21) that kept us out of the state playoffs by one game. So this year, our goal is very simple. It’s to get back to the state playoffs. We feel like we left some stuff to be desired last year.”

Savannah Christian reached the first round of the 2022 state playoffs in a different classification, Class A Private. The Raiders were reclassified to Class 3A for the 2022-23 and 2023-24 school years.

Knight believes the Raiders can use gains from the 2023 campaign into the new season.

“We just want to be able to make some noise,” Knight said. “You don’t want to go backward as a team. Whenever you have a standard, you want to build off that. We want to make sure the younger girls and everybody in the program knows our standard is state playoffs and we build from there. The only way to do that is to get back there. So that’s our goal.”

Striving to reach that benchmark is a roster with a mix of experience and youth. Savannah Christian graduated standout midfielder Drake Spisso (14 goals, five assists in 2023). Among the returning players are senior striker Elena Tovar (nine goals, two assists last season) and senior goalkeeper Ava Rolen.

“I think the strength of our team is the balance we have of senior leadership and youth ability,” Knight said. “We have a lot of young, talented players that get to be guided by our seniors, who have been in this program for four whole years under me as a coach, which is the first full class that I’ve had. So it’s going to be really cool to see that balance of leadership and ability come together this year.”

One of those seniors, center back Julia Ronning, agreed with her coach and said the younger players are excited and eager to learn and improve.

“We have a really good work ethic this year,” Ronning said. “I think we have a really good culture this year. We have a lot of leadership with the seniors, even down to some sophomores – we have pretty experienced players. We have a really good balance between people eager to learn and leaders ready to help them.”

The Raiders also see speed as one of the team’s strengths. Sophomore midfielder Maddie Driver said each segment on the field – front line, midfield and back line – has a unique style that works as a great combination on the field.

“In the back, we have a sophomore, Sadler Wilson, with speed who catches up to basically everyone who goes back there,” Driver said.

Ronning, while in her final season, also is concerned with the program in the future. She wants to help build a foundation and noted a strong collection of freshmen, sophomores and juniors.

“As a senior, my goal is to build a really strong team to leave behind for next year and keep moving up, making it our tradition that we make the state playoffs,” Ronning said. “That’s the bar and we only want to go up from there.”


PHOTO Credit: Optim Orthopedics marketing Department

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Optim Orthopedics is a well-known name in Savannah's high school sports community, providing crucial medical support to local high schools. Prep Sports Report basketball coverage is presented by Optim Orthopedics.   They have dedicated fellowship-trained Orthopedics Surgeons, including Dr. David Sedory for Benedictine Military, Bradwell Institute, and Liberty County, Dr. David Palmer for Calvary Day, Richmond Hill, and South Effingham, and Dr. Thomas Alexander for Savannah Country Day and St. Vincent's. Optim Orthopedics's commitment to local athletes runs deep. They are proud sponsors of the Prep Sports Report, whose motto is, "Optim Orthopedics gets you back into the game

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The "Coach" Karl DeMasi has been teaching and coaching for the past 35 years on all levels of academia and athletics. One of his hobbies has been writing, announcing and talking about sports. DeMasi has been involved in the Savannah Area sports scene since 1995, and he created the high school magazine "The Prep Sports Report" in 2000. In 2010, the "Coach" started broadcasting The Karl DeMasi Sports Report. He's still going strong, broadcasting on Facebook live and Twitter live every Saturday morning. You gotta love it!

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