Before Ravenscroft began its currently undefeated season, coach Alix Charles said the Ravens discussed assignments, roles and expectations.
Senior Johnny McNeill, standing at 6-foot-4, was a big part of that conversation.
“We have the fact that we can use his height on set plays, which is capitalizing well,” Charles said of McNeill. “Going into the season, we talked about set pieces that should make a difference, and it’s paying dividends. (McNeill is) winning a lot of balls in the air, which is great.”
Against a visiting North Raleigh Christian Academy in Tuesday night’s Triangle Independent Schools Athletic Conference opener for both clubs, McNeill didn’t just win balls.
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He scored them – all with his head.
I think you kind of have to double team him a little bit, kind of get him out the box a little bit
NRCA coach Ed Pinon on combating Ravenscroft senior Johnny McNeill
McNeill’s first-half hat trick gave Ravenscroft a 3-1 victory. It took him just 21 minutes to post the trio, each coming off a corner kick. The Ravens’ first three corners produced the goals.
He said practice prepares the Ravens, who stayed unbeaten, for scoring in such a rare fashion.
“We do have some set plays that we work through quite a bit,” said McNeill following the conference opener. “Honestly, when you’re as big as me, winning headers is pretty easy and pretty fun, and it’s something that I pride myself on. We absolutely do work on those in practice.”
The rehearsed move worked flawlessly on three different occasions.
The Ravens missed an early scoring opportunity after a Seth Wolins save. They bounced back with McNeill’s first goal, coming off Connor Gridley, who served all three goal-clinching corners.
“Connor Gridley, he was really important tonight,” McNeill said. “He served some really great corners tonight. They were really important, and that’s what made the difference for us today. It’s definitely a big facet of the game, and I think we really capitalized.”
There were 14 corner kicks combined from Ravenscroft and NRCA during Tuesday’s match, and the Ravens led with 12 shots to the Knights’ nine. Sophomore Brian Himmel scored NRCA’s lone goal in the second half.
Most of the Ravens’ starters rested to open the second half, as their 3-0 lead remained intact until the 78-minute mark.
McNeill was one of those starters, running along and stretching on the sideline before he prepared to re-enter the match.
After the Knights’ goal, they began picking up the pace to pressure the Ravens. But it was no threat to them.
“You know the other team’s going to come out really strong (in the second half),” McNeill said. “It’s just all about keeping a cool head. We obviously went up early. We knew we were up 3-0 at halftime, and in the second half, it’s all about weathering the storm.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan