Next Girl Up: Meet Sydney Ritter, Eastern soccer’s latest rising star

Through her first eight high school games, Eastern sophomore Sydney Ritter is tied for the team lead in goals (with eight) and assists (four), too. (RYAN LAWRENCE/South Jersey Sports Weekly)

Eastern Regional High School’s girls soccer team is in the midst of a remarkable run. 

The Vikings entered Halloween weekend with a 79-3-3 record since the beginning of the 2017 season. They’ve won three straight South Jersey Coaches Association Tournaments (the area’s premiere in-season event), they’ve played in back-to-back Group 4 state championships, including winning it all in 2018, and they were ranked No. 1 in the country as recently as a year ago.

But in high school sports, star athletes graduate. Last fall, Eastern said goodbye to two United Soccer Coaches All-Americans in top scorer Kelli McGroarty, the Sun Newspapers 2018 Player of the Year, and top defender Sara Brocious, a three-time South Jersey Defensive Player of the Year.

But strong programs restock. Eastern did that and more this fall. 

When club soccer programs decided to shut down due to the pandemic, the Vikings benefited in adding a few more new faces to the roster, including current sophomore standout Sydney Ritter.

In her first season of high school soccer, Ritter, who starred last fall for Cedar Stars Academy-Monmouth, has played like one of the top players in the state. She has helped give the Vikings an explosive offensive trio with 2019 Sun Newspapers Player of the Year Riley Tiernan and talented junior Cami Silvestro. Through Eastern’s first eight games (all wins), Ritter was tied for both the team lead in goals (with eight) and assists (four).

Following a recent win over rival Washington Township – when she scored the game-winning goal, naturally – Ritter spoke to South Jersey Sports Weekly.

SJSW: How long have you been playing soccer?

Ritter: Since I was 4. 

SJSW: How did you get into it?

Ritter: Soccer and basketball. I tried lacrosse and dancing, but soccer and basketball were the two things I stayed with. And then in fifth grade I decided that I just wanted to focus on soccer.

SJSW: Wow, fifth grade? That’s pretty young to make that decision!

Ritter: Yeah. [Laughs]. My parents said it was weird, too. [Laughs]. It was just that I liked basketball but I loved soccer. This is what I want to do. I want to play pro, I want to be on the national team. This is what I want to do.

SJSW: Do you still play basketball pickup games?

Ritter: No, no I don’t.

SJSW: Just left it behind completely.

Ritter: I really did. [Laughs]

SJSW: Did either of your parents play soccer?

Ritter: No! My dad played basketball, football and ran track. He went to Paul VI.

Eastern lost two United Soccer Coaches All-Americans to graduation last summer in top scorer Kelli McGroarty, the Sun Newspapers 2018 Player of the Year, and top defender Sara Brocious, a three-time South Jersey Defensive Player of the Year. Sydney Ritter is among the newcomers who have stepped in to keep the Vikings on top. (RYAN LAWRENCE/South Jersey Sports Weekly)

SJSW: Do you know what you’re doing yet for college?

Ritter: I don’t. I mean I have schools that I’m looking at but I really don’t know.

SJSW: How would you describe that process? Exciting or stressful?

Ritter: Both. [Laughs]. I’m excited to talk to coaches next summer but I want to make the right choice. I don’t want to rush into anything.

SJSW: Anything in particular you’re looking for? I guess you’re weighing academics and athletics?

Ritter: Yeah, I kind of want to do something in engineering, I’m not sure exactly, but the STEM field, maybe. So I definitely want to go to a top Division-I school.

SJSW: Are you going to continue playing high school soccer next year?

Ritter: I think so. I think so, yeah.

SJSW: You turn 16 this month. Where do you hope to be at age 22?

Ritter: Playing on the (United States) national team.

SJSW: Is that your No. 1 goal?

Ritter: [Laughs]. Yep, No. 1 goal.

SJSW: When did that first become something you thought about?

Ritter: Probably when I got invited to the National Training Center. It was a couple of years ago. I think I was 12. It was always a goal, but (then it became) maybe I can do this once I got invited. 

SJSW: Who was the coolest person you met there?

Ritter: My old coach from TBAA Sonic, Ellis Badillo. He’s a National team scout. It was cool he was there.

SJSW: Who is your favorite player to watch?

Ritter: Probably Mallory Pugh (who plays on the U.S. National team and plays for Sky Blue FC of the National Women’s Soccer League).

SJSW: How about here in South Jersey?

Ritter: Honestly I like watching Cami (Silvestro) on our team. She’s really good. 

SJSW: Yeah, I was going to say that you couldn’t go wrong picking someone from your own team. Let’s stick with your teammates for a bit. Who is the toughest player on your team?

Ritter: Toughest? Oh my God. Maybe Christina (Dai).

SJSW: Smartest?

Ritter: Maybe Klio (Kokolis). 

SJSW: Funniest?

Ritter: Esi (Jeffrey). 

SJSW: Who do you think the best overall athlete at Eastern is right now?

Ritter: I don’t know. That’s really tough. I know Ryleigh Heck on field hockey is really good. 

SJSW: If you could invite four people to dinner, who are you inviting?

Ritter: Anyone in the world?

SJSW: Yep.

Ritter: Christen Press (another member of the U.S. National team). A Boogie, he’s a rapper. Elon Musk. He’s smart. And who else? Mia Hamm. 

SJSW: Last one: if you could get into a time machine and go anywhere right now, where are you going?

Ritter: Maybe to the past?

SJSW: Either way, past or future.

Ritter: I don’t want to mess with the future! Or see what’s going on. [Laughs]. Probably the past, I’d go to World War II. 

SJSW: That’s kind of heavy. [Laughs]

Ritter: Yeah, I’ve always had an interest in history and the Holocaust and all of that. Maybe talk to Anne Frank.

Eastern players mob sophomore Sydney Ritter after her second half goal broke a 1-1 tie in a game against Washington Township last week. (RYAN LAWRENCE/South Jersey Sports Weekly