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Richmond Hill Raiders fare well in tournament
Coach Adel Mustafa and Richmond Hill Raiders (from left) Chase Gill, Sam Hulsey, Will Blakewood, Andrew Benjamin and Cannon Rooker during the nationals tournament in Orlando.

The Richmond Hill U14 Raiders 3v3 soccer team just wrapped up a successful season. The team made it all the way to the nationals competition in Orlando, where they fared well.

The team is coached by former RHHS soccer star and current Mercer University player Adel Mustafa. This summer was Mustafa’s first venture as a head coach. He said he is happy for the young team’s success and took on the coaching duties as a form of giving back to the community during his summer break from college.

Coincidentally, Mustafa’s father, Mohammad Mustafa, simultaneously led the girls U14 to the nationals competition, proving the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

The younger Mustafa said his dad coached the boys Raiders teams last summer. This summer, the elder Mustafa started up the girls team and asked his son to take on the task of coaching the boys.

"I told my dad I’d do it on one condition, and that is if I could have complete control and do things my way," said Mustafa. "He agreed and we’re all quite happy with the results."

Mustafa said there was a lot of room for improvement walking in, but he was impressed with the boys’ determination and dedication to the sport. This helped them vastly improve which became evident in the team’s win-loss record.

"We practiced every day and they put in 100 percent at every single practice," said Mustafa. "They learned so much each day. I could see in each one of my players that this was something that they loved to do and that’s what I loved about it and made my job so easy."

Mustafa said the team turned around from losing every game of a Jekyll Island tournament last summer to placing within the top three in tournaments in Jacksonville and Savannah.

Under Mustafa’s tutelage, the Raiders began racking up victories and focusing on the nationals as being a viable option for them. Sure enough, their victories qualified them for the nationals, which took place July 27-29 at Walt Disney’s Wide World of Sports Soccer Complex in Orlando.

Mustafa said the team’s excitement started to get the best of them and led to the first Orlando game slipping away from them. After being up 2-0 at halftime, Mustafa said too much excitement and not enough focus cost them a 3-4 loss.

"After that, I looked at them and said ‘that’s not what we’re here to do; get focused.’ That seemed to do the trick as they followed that game with a string of victories, including a 7-2 victory over the team that ended up winning the championship."

The quarterfinals saw the Raiders in a tough game that ended up going into overtime. Mustafa said his planned set piece strategy came into play with Cannon Rooker passing to Will Blakewood who scored in the last five seconds of the game to win.

Mustafa doted on the fact that several opposing teams were forced to try to score from midfield as the Raider defense was so good.

The Raiders advanced to the final day of play and ended up nabbing fifth place in the nationals tournament, which featured teams from all over the country.

"This whole experience was a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to reconnecting with the boys and taking them to the nationals once again," said Mustafa. "The reason they got this far is the fact that they always wanted to learn and followed that up by applying what they learned."

Mustafa went on to speak about some of the strengths of the individual players:

- Chase Gill: "He played in the back and was in for every minute of every game, without any break, in the nationals. He did an awesome job for us."

- Cannon Rooker and Andrew Benjamin: "I teamed them up, and they proved to be the two most technical players on the team – and two of the quickest as well. They compliment each other well through playing controlled soccer and not being selfish. I’d put those two on when needed I needed quick goal or when we were being overpowered by bigger kids. They delivered every time."

- Will Blakewood and Sam Hulsey: "Those two played with perfect form. They are tactically flawless and always in position. When I needed to make sure a goal wasn’t scored against us, I put them in. They displayed perfect defensive skills."

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