Coach Kenney visits Lady Raiders soccer

By Randy Lefko Sports Editor
Posted 6/8/22

EAGLE HARBOR - With a spirited soccer game with a flurry of goals scored, a handful of Orange Park High School girls soccer teams that finished with back-to-back state runner-up finishes in 1995 and …

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Coach Kenney visits Lady Raiders soccer

Posted

EAGLE HARBOR - With a spirited soccer game with a flurry of goals scored, a handful of Orange Park High School girls soccer teams that finished with back-to-back state runner-up finishes in 1995 and 1996 showed off some “Old School” muscle memory in the presence of legendary coach Charles “Rodney” Kenney. The game was staged at the Clay County Soccer Complex in Eagle Harbor on Saturday.

“It started a few years ago as a phone call between my son, Chris and Stephanie Butler, then it just grew to today,” said Kenney, who sported a shirt displaying his 1991-2002 coaching tenure at Orange Park High School. “These girls all played for me or for the two state runnerup teams from back in 1995 and 1996.”

Kenney’s tenure included the two championship runs; a 3-1 loss in the Class 6A championship game against Countryside Clearwater in 1995 and a 2-1 loss to Spanich River (Boca Raton) in 1996.

On the 1995 team, at 24-1-2, was standout Jill Ford, who was selected that year as the Dairy Farmers Miss Florida Soccer winner and played at Florida State University. The 1996 team was 31-2.

“We played a lot of teams out of the county and down in south Florida because we wanted to see what we might see in the playoffs,” said Kenney, noting Ford was unable to attend the reunion game on Saturday. “Back then, soccer was big at Orange Park with the boys teams winning a title with coach Frank Pontore and Randy Warren.”

Kenney, 75, left Orange Park in 2002 after amassing at 248-42 wins/losses record before winning his 300th game at Hagerty High School and a state title in 2012.

In 2012, Kenney was the Class 5A coach of the year and had stints at University of North Florida and Stetson University.

Nicole Rossi-Wofford, a 1995 midfielder, remembered her assignment was to mark the top scorer for Countryside.

“I remember she was a big girl, like a brick house, said Rossi-Wofford. “We’ve been talking about today for a few years and we finally got it arranged.”

One player, Kalin Wilson-Fisico, traveled all the way from Canada to play.

“I coached a couple of years after high school, but am now a mom,” said Fisico. “Canada is a hockey nation so being a state champion soccer player up there did not carry much street cred.”

Kelly Carpenter, Class of 2003, noted that Kenney always had pretty cool slogans that eventually became T-Shirts in the hallways at Orange Park High.

“I have a bunch of them with me,” said Carpenter. “The best ones had Attitude and Focus on the fronts.”

One much-repeated phrase that Kenney employed was in Carpenter’s head for most to the Saturday contest.

“I kept hearing “conditioning is everything, conditioning is everything,’” said Carpenter. “Coach was right back then and even now, it still applies. I was feeling it today.”

One regimen at practices that Kenney made sure improved his team’s conditioning was the dreaded “Hell Runs,” according to Carpenter.

“Every practice, we ran around the fields with a sprint one leg, jog three, then sprint two legs, jog two, sprint three legs jog one, then the final one was a sprint

all four segments,” said Carpenter. “And you have to run it faster then the previous days practice or you had to do it again. That was the test. There was a little puking on those.”

One game ritual that Kenney credits his team’s discipline and focus to was to standing tall with hands on heart for the National Athem.

“I used to see we would be fidgeting around during the National Anthem and I finally told them to start paying attention to the National Anthem, stand up and put their hands on their hearts,” said Kenney. “I want to tell you, it looked like a drill team did it all at the same time and it got us focused on the game.”

Kenney recalled that, in that first game, Orange Park was 15-7 and Pensacola Washington was undefeated 26-0 and the Lady Raiders won 5-0.

“The local TV reporter told me that that team was going to state and we beat them pretty good in that region game,” said Kenney. “I said when we got the second goal, I knew we would win. The reporter said, “You had them at the National Anthem” because of the discipline.”

Kenney had two recollections about his coaching decisions in the state championship games.

“I made a decision in both games that I wish I could get back,” said Kenney. “In one of the games, we were up 1-0, and I moved a defensive back, Kate Bowles, up front and they scored two quick goals. The second was the next year when I watched the semifinal game and said to myself that the team we were playing the final was not that good. Well, the team they played was very, very good. We only lost by one, but I remember I underestimated them.”

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