Ryan Ross grew up in sports-crazed Naperville neighborhood dominated by activity. Soccer was the first sport he tried at the age of three, though his earlier impulses were more versatile than specific.
“I also played basketball and baseball. Soccer was something else. It was my passion and I knew that growing up and I eventually dropped the other sports. The street I lived on was a soccer street, and everybody was already playing it.
“The neighborhood developed me into a soccer player.”
Neuqua Valley is the fortunate beneficiary. The four-year starter and Bowling Green recruit has a productive career with the No. 11 Wildcats and is finishing with a flury.
Ross recorded a hat trick as Neuqua Valley beat No. 4 Batavia 3-1 to capture the Upstate Eight crossover title last Wednesday. It was the third hat trick of his career, and the second this year.
He is a competitor, said Neuqua Valley coach Skip Begley. “He is one of those players who is easily noticed because he’s a hard-working kid,” said Begley, the third-year coach who took over the Wildcats’ program after Ross’ freshman year.
“He hates to lose, even a single possession. When he does lose the ball, he wants it right back and he has really developed a nose for the goal,” Begley said.
Since his sophomore year, Ross has been the centerpiece of the Wildcats’ attack, the scoring forward whose ability to finish or create for teammates marks the team’s offensive sets. He said his best attribute is his speed.
“I love getting through balls and running past the backline,” said Ross, who leads Neuqua Valley with 18 goals. “I’m good at playing the ball off on one touch, and I have a good IQ for the game.
“I know where the next play is.”
Injuries and early season lineup experimentation contributed to the Wildcats’ 2-4 start.
“We put kids in different spots and we sorted our lineup,” Ross said. “People know their roles now and know what they need to do. It’s a completely different team, and the chemistry is there and we have everything going now.”
In his four years, Ross has developed other skills. Being the team leader means not just orchestrating the offense, but also setting a tone with a disciplined and rigorous approach about the game.
“Coming in as a freshman, I can’t explain the experience it gave me,” Ross said. “It showed me if I put in the work, it would pay off and the work usually leads to success.”
Begley has witnessed the subtle improvements to Ross over the last three years. “He always had the good foot speed, good acceleration, but the other thing he has done as he has grown and matured is realized the more he plays and involves others, that makes him even more dangerous,” Begley said.