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Think championship

By STEVE LEE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 13, 2002

NEW PORT RICHEY -- Ridgewood coach John Herig is impressed when he sees the championship banners hanging in the school's gymnasium.

But he wonders why there is none for the sport he coaches.

The Rams won the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference title in 1988-89 with a 10-0 conference mark and 12-1 overall record, but the school has since moved to the Sunshine Athletic Conference and only SAC banners are hung in the gym.

This year's team may change that.

The Rams tied a school record with their 12th win Wednesday -- 4-2 over Mitchell -- and aimed to set a new standard Friday against Leesburg.

"I've been saying it all year long, that this is the best team," Herig said, pointing out that the current squad could approach the 20-win plateau.

That would outshine the 12-1 team of 1988-89 and 1990-91 squad that went 12-3-1.

Record wins aside, however, the fifth-year coach has his sights set on a grander prize: Ridgewood's first district championship and regional playoff berth.

With a 12-2-1 overall record and a 6-0 mark in Class 3A, District 7, the Rams are ready to do just that.

"That's what I'm hoping for," Herig said, "to be playing for a district championship."

In the 10 seasons before Herig, Ridgewood won 56 games. Entering Friday's game, the Rams have 50 wins in his tenure.

"The program's coming a long way," Herig said, attributing the Rams' success to team chemistry.

He could have added balance. Ridgewood boasts the county's third- and fifth-leading scorers in Taylor Greene (19 goals, 53 points) and Amanda Salvarezza (17, 38), and is strong defensively with seniors Virginia Elswick and Ellie Kalathakis as sweeper and stopper, respectively.

The defenders are hardly one-dimensional. Each can push up and contribute to the offense. Elswick has two goals and seven points, while Kalathakis has a goal and six points.

Nonetheless, defense is their top priority, just as it has been since both started as freshmen.

"Overall, I think our defense will hang with the best in our county and district," Herig said.

"Anyone gets by me, (Kalathakis) takes them," Elswick said. "We know what each other's doing."

Added Kalathakis, "Every time I go up, she gets my back. And every time she goes up, I get her back."

Tiffany Vega, a junior, also figures into the mix. An all-conference defender last season, Vega is solid as an outside back and has a goal and four points.

The Rams' lineup got even stronger in mid-December with the return of goalkeeper Crystal Phillips, a junior who has juggled soccer and basketball in each of the past three seasons.

Phillips is 4-0 with four goals allowed and a shutout since her return Dec. 17.

"It's a lot easier, I have more time," said Phillips, adding that her grades have improved since she no longer juggles two sports.

A missed basketball practice to play in a soccer game led to a benching and, ultimately, to Phillips' decision.

"We're happy to have her back in soccer," Elswick said. "I know she loves basketball, but I'm really glad she's back in soccer because she can help us more."

But Phillips had mixed emotions about moving Heather Davis, a defender who filled in between the pipes when she was playing basketball.

"I didn't feel like I deserved to start, because I missed so many practices," Phillips said. "Now, I feel better."

Herig lauded Davis for being unselfish and not complaining about the switch.

"She is probably our unsung hero," Herig said of Davis, who posted a 6-1-1 record in her stint as a keeper. "When Crystal came back (Davis) realized her place was on the field, not in the net.

"I cannot say enough about Heather Davis."

Herig, as well as some of his players, also cannot say enough about the team's attitude adjustment from previous seasons.

"The girls have better attitudes," the coach said. "They want to win."

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