Soccer: Auburn Riverside’s Fish and Riggs serve Kentwood

Natalie Fish (11) and Caitlyn Riggs (11) combine for two goals against Conks to remain undefeated

The perfect season continues for the Auburn Riverside Ravens as they took down the Kentwood Conquerors 3-1 at home on Sept. 21.

Last year when these two teams met, it was an extremely competitive game that went the Ravens’ way, 3-2. Both teams last season were state qualifying teams.

“They are a good team. I was going through the high five line saying ‘Good luck in playoffs’ because for sure they’re going to be there,” said Auburn Riverside Head Coach Paul Lewis.

So far this season, the Ravens had only allowed a single goal in their first six games, and it came in the final half against Kennedy Catholic in their previous game before taking on Kentwood.

“These games are really challenging, but could also be really formative and bring us together,” said Lewis.

Caitlyn Riggs dribbles the ball against Kentwood. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Caitlyn Riggs dribbles the ball against Kentwood. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Even at the start of this game, an unlikely misplay from Riverside keeper Rory Murry gave Kentwood a 1-0 lead just four minutes into the game.

“They’re really scrappy,” Lewis said.

It was the first time Auburn Riverside had trailed all season, and from the sidelines and on the field, there was no nervousness.

“I was probably more nervous last game because it was our first goal. I wasn’t happy… But I was intrigued to see how we were going to respond. Because I knew it was going to be a really tough game,” Lewis said.

To the Ravens’ credit, there was no panic. Seemingly out of nowhere, Caitlyn Riggs was sent down the right sideline. She used her speed and found Natalie Fish sitting on the six-yard box for the equalizer just four minutes after Kentwood took the lead.

“I loved the way we responded,” said Lewis. “Kentwood did a great job of getting out there and pressuring us and getting a first goal. As the younger group, they had to learn how to be able to respond to that and step up to it,” he added.

The message from the players to each other was all about energy.

“It was mostly about returning energy and not getting down on ourselves. Picking it up and increasing the energy… Working together as a team and not individuals,” said Fish.

Fish returned the favor to her fellow striker in the 14th minute. She set up Riggs, who made a physical run toward the net and was able to find space past the keeper for the Ravens’ second goal of the game and what would be the winning goal.

“Caitlyn is an amazing player. I’m so glad to be playing with her,” Fish said. “She’s always there always communicating, she’s great on and off the field. She’s a great friend. Harper (Curnutt) is also there, and she helps move us around and find those combinations to move us up the field.”

Ellie Shipe plays the space against the Conks for Riverside. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Ellie Shipe plays the space against the Conks for Riverside. Ben Ray / The Reporter

The combo of Fish and Riggs is a luxury for Lewis because not only are they extremely talented, but they play well together.

“Caitlyn is such a special person size wise because she’s so tall and attracts attention. But having a partner up top like Natalie who puts all that mileage in consistently is a really helpful one-two punch,” he said.

The second half might not have had the scoring totals, but the two sides kept battling back and forth. Physicality was a big theme on both sides with both back lines standing tall on many occasions. For Auburn Riverside, Layla Bejar was the highlight of the defense.

“Layla is a forward, she loves to score goals. She made the sacrifice coaches asked her to and she’s really taken that role of center back and owned it. She played an amazing game by individual markings and throwing her body all over the place, being super smart,” Lewis said.

That skill and confidence from the center back really helps the keeper as well.

“She gives Rory a lot of confidence. And that is the biggest thing if your keeper has a little bit of confidence in the defense, she plays more confident,” Lewis said.

The third goal of the game came on a corner kick midway through the second half at the 62nd minute. Stella Beuersdorf put a ball right on top of the defense that deflected off a Kentwood defender for an own goal and sealed the game for Riverside, 3-1.

The game brought physicality that the Ravens had seen briefly in the second half of their Kennedy matchup, but Kentwood brought it all 80 minutes on Thursday.

“It is good preparation. I think for some of the girls there was a little bit of an eye-opening experience … Hopefully that’s a good call there for the girls to step up and you know play bigger and be a little stronger. It’s the ramping up and I think they answered,” Lewis said

The junior Natalie Fish had a different kind of idea on how to deal with physicality.

“I know there’s going to be injuries, there’s going to be contact. If you’re not ready for it, you’re playing the wrong sport and I’m always ready for it,” she said.

Riverside is in their gauntlet of their season; Kennedy, Kentwood is half of the challenge. Tahoma and Kentridge await them for their next two games. Kentridge is off to a fantastic start with a 6-1 record.

“These challenges will really help us prepare for our state run. Obviously, we’re in our hard two weeks right now and we’re coming out strong. Our team chemistry is going well and making us work harder as a team,” Fish said.