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McDonnell right at home at midfield

Jimmy McDonnell scored two goals and handed out nine assists this year. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Jimmy McDonnell isn’t afraid to try new things.

But he’s happy doing what he does best.

McDonnell is a junior on the Archbishop Ryan High School soccer team, and this year he settled into the center attacking midfield position. He did this a year after playing three different positions for the Raiders, and while he loves his new position, he’s happy he had the experience of learning how to be the team’s Swiss army knife.

“It was hard because you had to know everything, you had to know what you were responsible for, but I think it helped make me a better player,” said McDonnell, a Somerton resident. “It showed they trusted me, and I liked doing it. I did it a lot growing up, playing a lot of positions, and it helped me become a better player, more versatile.”

But this year, he became the starting center attacking midfielder, and it was right where he belonged. It worked well, cashing in for two goals, and more importantly, nine assists for the Raiders who went undefeated in Catholic League play and ended up winning a game in the state tournament.

“I think this year was pretty good, I felt comfortable and we had a great year,” said McDonnell, who was honorable mention All-Catholic a season ago before taking second team all-league this year. “I had really good chemistry with the attacking players. I worked pretty well with Sidiki (Fofana) this year, we have been playing together for a few years, and (Tim) Cliggett and I started working well together. He’s so young, so he’s just going to get bigger, stronger and better, so I think we’ll work well together next year.”

McDonnell has high hopes for the Raiders going forward, but he was just as quick to point out what the senior class did this year.

A season ago, Ryan didn’t do as well as it would have liked during the regular season, but when the playoffs arrived, the Raiders turned it on. They advanced to the semifinals of the Catholic League playoffs and fell just short of knocking off La Salle, which went on to win the championship.

This year, there were no Catholic League playoffs. It was decided the teams would compete for a state championship, so Ryan couldn’t ride the momentum it got rolling last year in the postseason. But the Raiders did have a memorable season.

“It was bad not having Catholic League playoffs, but it was a great year,” McDonnell said. “With COVID, the year was a lot better than I expected. When they said we weren’t going to play, it was hard, but then they told us we could play, so it was great to have a season even if we didn’t have a chance for the playoffs.

“It’s sad for the seniors. They were a huge part of this team. But if we win next year or they win the year after, they’ll be part of that championship. We’re a really close team and we’re all best friends. If we win, they’ll have a big part of that.”

McDonnell hopes the Raiders bring it home next year.

It’s hard to predict what will happen in the fall, but if the season returns, the Raiders will be among the contenders. And they’ll have an experienced offensive presence leading the way both on the field and off it.

“I like being the one who sets people up,” McDonnell said. “This year I was hoping for more goals, but we played less games and I didn’t get a chance, but we won a lot of games and we played well, so as long as we won, I was happy.

“This year I tried to be a better leader, and I think I did pretty well at it. We had great leaders, the seniors were great, but I tried to help out. I learned from them, and I hope I’m one of the leaders next year. We needed younger guys to step up, and I tried to do that.”

Leadership is one of the things the Raiders return next year.

They also have a great offense with McDonnell and Cliggett returning to the mix.

But according to McDonnell, the best part of next year’s team might be the defense.

The Raiders were young on the back this year, starring freshmen and sophomores on defense, and they responded well. Ryan surrendered four goals in 10 games, nine victories, and never gave up more than one in any game.

The Raiders had plenty of talent on defense, and next year they’ll return with the experience of playing a season, including two games in the state playoffs.

That should make the team that much more dangerous.

“They were so young, but they really did a good job for us,” said McDonnell, who got playing time as a freshman. “It’s hard to play as a freshman, but they did it. And our goalie was a sophomore, he played last year, too. We should be really solid next year. We won’t have the great seniors, but everyone who is back will have more experience, so we should be even better.”

McDonnell plans on improving, too.

He’ll spend his offseason playing club soccer for Lighthouse. The more touches he gets, the better he’ll feel and the more he’ll be ready for a championship run.

“It’s good to play all year because you stay in shape and you stay sharp,” said McDonnell, who works at Neli’s Deli. “(Playing attacking midfield) is all about getting space and getting the ball to guys so they can finish. You need to get space and be smart. The more you play, you get better.”

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