False MI Prep Zone: Tested Royal Oak squad readying for playoffs WITH PHOTO GALLERY
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Tested Royal Oak squad readying for playoffs WITH PHOTO GALLERY

  • Royal Oak coach, Kevin Robb (kneeling), gives his team some last minute pointers before the start of the match. Daily Tribune Photo/LIZ CARNEGIE
  • Daily Tribune Photo/LIZ CARNEGIE
  • Daily Tribune Photo/LIZ CARNEGIE
  • Daily Tribune Photo/LIZ CARNEGIE
  • Daily Tribune Photo/LIZ CARNEGIE

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ROYAL OAK – Despite Tuesday night’s lopsided 6-0 loss to OAA Red rival Stoney Creek, the Royal Oak girls soccer team is fired up and ready for this year’s state tournament.

Obviously, going down the way they did against the No. 3 ranked Cougars was not in the game plan, but for the Ravens, Tuesday night was just another test and another opportunity to get better.

Heading into districts, which kick off in less than two weeks, Royal Oak will be as prepared as it’s been in recent memory. And for head coach Kevin Robb, it’s easy to see the confidence that his group exudes.

“Our girls have learned to play with more speed and intensity,” he said. “Playing in the (OAA) Red, the pace of the game is so much faster. Your decision-making has to be that much quicker. And now that our girls have seen these games and played in these games, their confidence is there. They know that they can play. Once they get the confidence, they’ll beat a brick wall down for you.”

Playing in one of the state’s toughest leagues, the Ravens (2-4 OAA Red) did much more than their conference record suggests.

Knocking off Troy Athens and Rochester mark two wins that any program in the area would be proud of, and Royal Oak played tight with Auburn Hills Avondale and Troy – the defending Division 1 champions.

“You’ve seen a lot of these girls really start to play with heart and desire,” Robb said. “When you play against these good teams, you begin to see that you can compete. These girls have been doing the small things to determine what it’s going to take to make that next step.”

Seniors Nerissa Zoller and Sam Bartelotti have helped carry the Ravens to this point, and even against Stoney Creek on Tuesday night, it was Zoller and Bartelotti who found the few scoring chances that were given up.

Bartelotti will play soccer next year at Siena Heights University, while Zoller is headed to Northwood University to play. The two’s experience and athleticism has rubbed off on teammates, and they tend to really feed off each other on the field.

“Nerissa and Sam have been great,” Robb said of his two four-year varsity stars. “I’ve had them for four years, and their work mentality and their leadership is just outstanding. They lead by example, they are always positive, they always encourage the other girls, and those are the things you need from your seniors.”

Along with Zoller and Bartelotti, defender Danielle Alexopoulos has excelled playing on the outside, and midfielders Lauren Bos and Liz LeAnnais give Royal Oak a number of playmakers that caused a lot of problems for opposition this year.

“She’s got two great feet,” Robb said of LeAnnais. “She’s extremely smart, she’s strong on the ball, and those are things that you can’t really teach. She has a lot of heart and a lot of desire.”

The Ravens drew Troy for their district opener, and Robb understands the opportunity that comes with opening the playoffs against the defending state champs.

Royal Oak has three games left in the regular season, including a big showdown with the top-ranked team in Division 3, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep. Like the game against Stoney Creek, next week’s matchup with the Irish will only help to prepare Robb’s group.

“These two games are really for us to prepare for districts,” he said of the matchups with Stoney Creek and Notre Dame Prep. “We host Troy in the first round of districts, and we’re really looking forward to that.”

Last Updated: 5/15/2014 2:07:28 AM EST

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