With any given sport, coaches are faced every year with having to replace some outstanding players from the season before. 

It’s something called graduation. 

Tim Ross has plenty of company from other boys soccer coaches in West Virginia when it comes to that area going into the 2018 season.

He is, though, all by his lonesome in one aspect when it comes to a particular departure.

Ross, you see, had the honor and privilege last year of having the state’s top player on his roster.

Sam Pierson, who enjoyed a stellar four-year career at Ripley, was not just an All-Stater but was voted the Player of the Year by the West Virginia Soccer Coaches Association. 

“We lost the Player of the Year and that makes it difficult,” Ross, who is entering his 10th season as the school’s head boys soccer coach, said in a preseason interview. “When you’ve had the fabulous opportunity to have a great young man like Sam, it’s tough shoes to fill.”

Pierson scored a state-leading 43 goals last season for the Vikings. He punched 32 into the net as a junior and scored 17 as a sophomore.

Besides West Virginia Player of the Year honors, Pierson was also named the Region IV and Mountain State Athletic Conference Player of the Year.

While it was tough to see him go, Pierson’s accomplishments will long be a source of pride for Ripley High School boys soccer.

The loss of Pierson is just part of the story for Ripley in what took place graduation night. Ryan Shatto, Jacob Casto, Steven Carte, Joel Burdette and Chris Neil are also gone.

Shatto scored 13 goals and had 10 assists. Carte finished with a goal and two assists. Burdette had one assist. Neil, the goalkeeper, had 150 saves.

Those numbers were a big reason why Ripley enjoyed a 14-6-2 record. The Vikings reached the Class AAA sectional final and fell to Parkersburg 3-1 (with the third goal being scored in the waning seconds).

Along the way last season, Ripley enjoyed a seven-game winning streak. One of Ripley’s top wins came against George Washington, who lost in the Class AAA State Tournament semifinals to eventual champion Hurricane.  

It was a season of many highs, but as Ross has learned, like all coaches do, life moves on.

“We lost some good ones,” he said. “But the kids we have back have matured well. And we’ve got some really good freshmen.”

The returning cast includes senior forward/midfielder Davisson Flint, who scored five goals and was credited with 12 assists last season. Broedy Boyce, a junior forward/midfielder, returns after an eight-goal/13 assist sophomore campaign. Junior forward/midfielder Kai Greely-Fay had three goals and six assists last year. Ian Gainey, a sophomore midfielder, scored two goals and had an assist last year as a freshman. Senior forward Brandon Cochran, who scored two goals a year ago, returns. Junior Eli Ross, who had three assists in 2017, is back. He’s listed as a midfielder/forward/keeper.

Kaegun Jackson, a junior defender, also had three assists a year ago. Robert Hopper, a sophomore midfielder, had a goal and an assist for the Vikings in their 14-win season. Senior defender/keeper Seth Gainey is back after coming up with 18 saves last year. John Zuniga, a junior midfielder, is another top returner for the Vikings.

Other upperclassmen looking to make contributions this season are juniors Matthew Bowlby, a defender, forward Jacob Harvey and Nate Williams, a forward/keeper.

The freshmen class features Wyatt White, a defender/midfielder, Carter Cochran, defender, Anderson Phillips, a defender/midfielder, Elijah Eash, a midfielder and defender/midfielder Noah Kessell. 

Ross feels Ripley should pass the test this season.

“It’s a very good passing team,” said the friendly Viking head coach. 

He likes several areas of his latest edition of Viking boys soccer.

“We’ve got some of the guys filling the shoes on the back line that I feel confident will do a good job,” he said.”Steven Carte was a really quick individual.” 

Ross is extremely high on Jackson’s potential.

Ripley heads into the season as a soccer-playing independent as the school is no longer a member of the Mountain State Athletic Conference.

“We’ve got a lot of good athletes (in all sports),” Ross said. “My concern is if we have kids who are All-State material are they going to be overlooked because we are not in a conference.”

It’s a hurdle Ripley will just have to overcome.

“It is what it is,” Ross said. “We just have to do our best. And I think that if we put forth our best effort on the field and they can display what a true athlete is, with good sportsmanship and giving everything he’s got on the field, I think that will reflect if we have students who should be in contention for anything.”

As many as 10 MSAC schools will show up on Ripley’s schedule this season.

Ripley scrimmaged Marietta this past Wednesday.

The Vikings are set to open the season with a two-day affair in Buckhannon on August 17-18.

Ripley’s home opener on the new turf at Memorial Stadium is slated for August 28 with Capital coming to town.