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East Ridge going about its business

East Ridge senior Connor Stevenson was one of the Raptors’ leading scorers in 2013, but that doesn’t mean he will lead the team in goals this season. (Bulletin file photo)

East Ridge head coach Anthony Bidwell likes to play things close to the vest.

Maybe that’s because he has a few secrets up his sleeve.

On paper, East Ridge looks like a team that’s fairly easy to predict.

The Raptors return three of their top scorers from a year ago in seniors Zack Boerjan, captain Samuel Ruiz Plaza and Connor Stevenson.

But that doesn’t mean those players will hold their spots among the team’s top scorers again in 2014.

“I’m going to guess that those three will not be the top three scorers this year,” Bidwell said.

Don’t bother asking who’s potentially jumping atop the scoring list, either. Bidwell, who’s entering his third year as East Ridge’s head coach, isn’t telling.

“I want teams to do the scouting, so I don’t want to give away names, but I do see players,” Bidwell said. “I do see the program building and I see players coming through the pipeline from younger grades, such as seventh or eighth graders. In fact I wish some seventh or eighth graders were playing varsity soccer this year, because they have exceptional talent. But as I said I think we have a lot of players developing and I would anticipate as the season begins that some players are going to step up beyond the players typical scorers of last season.”

The fact that there might be some shuffling among the Raptors’ top scorers this season, or that there may just be more scorers across the roster, shouldn’t come as much of a surprise as Bidwell continues to build up the program’s depth and East Ridge develops stars among each grade level.

“It’s only been three years and within that limited time span I’ve seen the program grow,” Bidwell said. “It’s pretty easy to see that growth when you establish clear criteria as to what you expect as a coach. Again I think that’s reiterated through a very smart community that’s really closely connected, because the younger kids that are coming up are already familiar with the expectations and the criteria that I look for in a player in the program.”

Bidwell isn’t about to divulge what those criteria are, either. You can’t blame him for that, because those secrets, those standards, which he said the player’s each year establish for each member to follow, have helped lift East Ridge soccer to one of the top programs in the state.

The Raptors have amassed 26 wins and advanced to two sectional finals over the past two seasons.

Bidwell has the task of replacing Chris Knight in net this season. Bidwell said East Ridge has multiple goalies who are “chomping at the bit” to get their crack between the posts, including sophomore Sam Richardson, who backed up Knight last season.

Bidwell said the competition in net is a welcomed one.

“Competition is great for any type of competitive sport,” he said. “It really pushes kids. It pushes them in a positive way, especially in the culture that these kids are accustomed to. They really use one another to make each other better. It enhances the program.”

Another area where Bidwell has witnessed growth in the program is in the leadership, particularly from his seniors. A couple of those leaders are, but aren’t limited to, Ruiz Plaza and Kris Broughton.

“It’s the strongest leadership that I’ve seen so far,” Bidwell said. “That could be something to be said about the school that’s in its fifth year of existence. Last year we had our first graduating class that spent four years in the high school, so here we see the second class and now we’re starting to see strong leadership within the upperclassmen, specifically within the seniors I see. And it’s shared leadership, which is probably the most remarkable I’ve seen of the three years.”

The increased leadership and depth within the program could lead to even better results, and an even deeper playoff run, this season.

But as for Bidwell, he just wants to see that continued growth that’s moving East Ridge up the state’s uber competitive soccer ladder of the state’s elite.

“Growth on the field and in character. It’s important for me too see student athletes develop off the field as well as on the field,” Bidwell said. “I love watching the maturation of young boys turning into young men and giving them ownership and them taking that ownership and using it in a way that’s constructive for building a program or a little community as such. I think that’s a thing that really comes to my mind.”

East Ridge has carried its winning ways from the past two seasons into the early part of the 2014 season. The Raptors won a pair of road games over the weekend as they topped Rochester John Marshall 4-3 Friday before beating Rochester Century 4-1 Saturday. East Ridge’s first home match of the season is Thursday at 3 p.m. when it takes on Minneapolis South.