In its latest move, the Knights have joined Class AAAAA and will compete alongside the likes of Creekview and Sequoyah in Region 7AAAAA. River Ridge, though, has the county’s smallest enrollment, with 1,575 scheduled to begin class Monday.
First-year athletic director Scott Krug, who succeeded retired AD Mike Baker after serving in the same position at Woodstock, is excited about the challenge.
“We have been pretty darn successful up to this point,” Krug said. “In our first five years of existence, to have, I think it’s 14 or 15 region championships, is great. We’d love to continue that, but we know it’s going to be tougher as we go up against larger schools.”
When the school launched with only freshmen in 2009, its athletic teams participated on the Class A level. All of them played non-region schedules, and none were eligible for the state playoffs.
A year later, reclassification moved the programs up to Class AA. That was also the first year that the teams were able to play in region tournaments. While most teams struggled to get on their feet, the softball and girls soccer programs stood out.
After two years in Class AA, and the first appearance by a River Ridge team — girls basketball — in the state playoffs, reclassification once again moved Cherokee County’s youngest school up to Class AAAA.
The move came after the Knights’ football team posted a team-best 8-2 season, but it was still ineligible for the state playoffs. The boys tennis and girls basketball teams joined softball and girls soccer as standout programs in 2011-12.
Moving up to Class AAAA was hard on some of River Ridge’s programs, but the football team performed well enough to reach the state playoffs for the first time. The volleyball team also broke out as one of seven teams —football, girls basketball, boys basketball, baseball, boys tennis, and girls soccer — to qualify for the state playoffs.
In the 2013-14 school year, River Ridge’s second year in Class AAAA, several Region 7AAAA titles were claimed. Volleyball won a region title, on its way to the state semifinals. The girls and boys basketball teams also won region titles, as did the girls soccer team, on its way to the state quarterfinals.
The boys tennis team did one better than any other River Ridge program when it played for the Class AAAA state title, losing to Marist in the finals.
In addition to the region championship teams, baseball, softball and girls lacrosse also qualified for the state playoffs.
Each time the bar has been raised for River Ridge, at least one program has accepted the challenge.
Krug said more established programs may have an easier time adjusting to a higher level of competitions, but the move also creates a clean start for programs that have struggled in the past.
“A program that already has its solid footing has expectations set pretty high already, and they are going to want to continue that success,” Krug said. “But I’m sure some of the programs that haven’t done as well are looking at this as a new opportunity to start off and get successful, like some of the others.”
Only a few coaches have been with the school from the beginning. Among them are football coach Robert Braucht and Sarah Goodbread, who coaches swimming and girls soccer, and at one time also coached volleyball.
Girls basketball coach Jason Taylor doesn’t expect much to change for his team in terms of competition. The Lady Knights had already played many Class AAAAA programs — like Sequoyah, Creekview, Sprayberry and Kell — that will now be on the schedule as region opponents.
Even when River Ridge made the two-level leap to Class AAAA, the Lady Knights responded by winning consecutive region titles.
“We are still playing a tough schedule in the non-region games,” Taylor said. “We still believe that playing those kind of games will help you get ready for the region. The only way the region is different is, where we had until January before we started region competition, we start in December this year. We have a little bit more as far as region games.
“It won’t be a whole lot different, but we are excited about the new competition.”