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It's early-season matchups that both schools enjoy, although they play in different classifications.

St. Thomas More and Rapid City Stevens kick-started the boys' and girls' soccer seasons Saturday on the hot artificial turf at Sioux Park Stadium, with the Raiders getting the sweep, winning the girls' game 5-0 and the boys' contest 2-1.

Stevens girls roll late for big win

Both teams battled fairly equal in the first half with the Raiders leading 1-0 at the break, but Stevens took control in the second half with four quick goals.

"St. Thomas More is a good team and they are well coached," Stevens coach Luis Usera said. "I think the difference is the depth on the bench. They started wearing down and we just kept coming after them. Eventually they broke and our girls were like sharks."

Stevens got on the board 14 minutes into the game on a goal from Emma Wojtanowic, with an assist from Ellie Schad. In the second half, the Raiders got goals from four other players — Peyton King, Abbie Noga, Adeline Basso and Schad. Basso's score came from a corner kick from Wojtanowic, while Schad also assisted on Noga's goal.

"We are very deep this year. If someone gets hurt, we have someone who can just as good ready to come in and ready tow work," senior center/mid Lexie Wood said. 

 The Raiders ended the 2017 season on a dour note, Usera said, and he said his team has been working hard to get ready for this season.

"We have really focused on relationship building, so they are getting along really well, and it is a dynamic group to be around," Usera said. "We have decent speed out on the field, but we are deeper on the bench, so we're pulling in players who are continuing on the same level."

It has been a good start for the Raiders, not only on Saturday, but in practice.

"It showed what we really need to work on more," added Stevens senior center/mid Tandra Keegan. "I think our biggest goal is to be able to finish."

Of the 22 players on the varsity roster, there are just eight seniors, making the Raiders still a young squad.

"Two years ago graduated 14 players, so a lot of them are just juniors and sophomores," Usera said. "We have a young team."

Usera said that while he believes they are hungry to go as far as they can this season, and if that is the case, they can stay right at home for the state championship.

The state title games will be at Sioux Park Stadium on Oct. 13.

"All of them want to be here for the state finals. I think with that, and each game, we just want to get better piece by piece," Usera said.

Stevens will be in Sioux Falls next weekend to face Sioux Falls Roosevelt and O'Gorman.

Although his team came up short on the scoreboard, STM coach Doug Noyes was not displeased with his team's effort.

"I'm really happy. I have seventh and eighth graders playing, with no seniors," Noyes said. "The value of this game for us is it puts them under a lot of pressure, and you get to see where your leaks are going to be, so we now have to go fix those. We won't play a better team, I don't think, for the rest of the year."

One of the areas the Cavaliers, last year's state runners-up, will look to improve on is on offense. Noyes said they struggled to get the ball out of midfield.

"I have two girls who blew out their knees that would have been starting in midfield, so the girls in midfield today worked real hard, but they have some things to learn about being there," he said.

Noyes is optimistic about what this team can do with more experience.

"We're really young, and when you are in a small school numbers really have an impact," he said. "We're good."

STM hosts Sioux Falls Christian and Groton Area next weekend.

Raider boys score twice in first half, hold on for win

Cayden Heinert's late first-half goal put the Raiders up 2-1, and they rode that momentum in the second half in a well-played game by both teams.

Stevens got on the scoreboard first on a goal by sophomore Damon Lushbough, before the Cavs tied the game on a direct-kick by Spencer Lund.

It looked to stay at 1-1 heading into the break before Heinert's unassisted goal with just about 25 seconds left gave the Raiders a boost.

"You can build some momentum off of that going into the second half," Stevens coach Dave Sharp said. "That is definitely a plus."

STM threatened on a couple of good scoring opportunities in the second half, but Raider keeper Zach Leivestad was up to the task and kept the Cavs out of goal.

"The turf was hot, but the guys played really hard. It was a good game and both teams played great," Sharp said. "We got a lot of young guys who got some good minutes, so that is always a positive, and we had good results."

The Raiders had 20 shots in the game, with 11 on goal, while STM had 10 shots and six on goal.

"It was a tough game with Stevens, but it always is this time of the year. I really like taking them on in the beginning as they really show us what we need to work on," STM coach Pete Sales said. "Playing on this turf field is quite a change than being out on the complex with longer grass. That was a little detrimental in the first half, but once the guys figured it out, we played better."

Sales said they played much better in the second half and had some really good opportunities on top.

"We made some changes to our formation a little bit, and kind of became more offensive-minded," he said. "I probably should have made that change a little sooner. The guys did what they needed to do and they worked hard. I was impressed."

Stevens senior Nick Degan said his team has been working hard since mid July, getting they team together. he said it paid off on Saturday.

 "Today we had some kinks we needed to iron out in the beginning, and by the end of the game we began to fall into rhythm," Degan said. "We owe that to coach Fierro (Jeff) and 600s conditioning, which allowed us to essentially out-run them."

Sharp said that while they have some good seniors returning, they are also  young with several freshmen and sophomores seeing action.

"They are technically good players and they are fit," he said. "It is just a matter of if they can physically keep up. There are some big boys up here playing.

"We're always building, trying to get better every day, so we can peak towards the state tournament. We're young, so getting that experience every day is going to help us. I like where we are at."

The Raiders will be on the road in Sioux Falls next weekend when they face Roosevelt and O'Gorman. 

Sales said that even with the loss, the game showed him a lot of things, particularly that they had more depth than he originally believed.

"With the large jayvee team that we have, we have plenty to choose from," he said. "Over the course of the year, I think you're going to see a lot of new faces out on the field, working their way in as substitutes. It will be exciting."

STM hosts Sioux Falls Christian on Friday.

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Sports Editor

Sports reporter for the Rapid City Journal.