By Jerry Del Priore
West Morris Mendham head boy’s varsity soccer coach Russ Raffay hit a fantastic milestone this year. He picked up his 100th career victory — a 2-1 win over Madison in the first round of the Morris County Soccer Tournament — in eight years at the school earlier in the 2019 season.
Raffay and the Minutemen went on to win three more games this campaign, bringing his career total wins to 103.
Along the way, Raffay has captured two Group 3 New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) titles. However, the 51-year-old coach has never made it about himself.
“With the 100 victories, I never played in a game,” Raffay said matter-of-factly. “It’s (been) all about the kids. It’s been an amazing journey.”
As for the two state championships — a 4-0 shutout over Toms River South in 2015, and a 2-1 win against Mainland in 2017 — Raffay said, “It was unforgettable. Your season ends in a victory. To end in a victory is amazing.”
While West Morris Mendham finished this season at 5-9-3, he knew his team was in transition mode this year but hoped for the best. Unfortunately for the Minutemen, injuries hit the team pretty hard.
“We’re in a rebuilding phase,” Raffay said at the time of the interview. “We haven’t been healthy all season long,” adding that he had five starters out the previous week.
Wins and loses aside, Raffay said it has been the positive relationships he has formed with his current and former players — some of which have gone on to play at high, competitive college levels — over his long tenure at the school that really makes the effort and hard work all worthwhile.
Interestingly enough, Raffay’s said his first win at West Morris Mendham came with Gavin Coutts, a former Minuteman who played at the University of Scranton, on the club. His 100th triumph had his brother, Ethan, on the squad.
“We have had kids that have played all over,” he said. “I pride myself with the relationships I have with the former players. I texted with them after they’ve graduated. It’s a good culture we have. That’s what we pride (coaching staff) ourselves on. We take great pride in building great overall character people.”
While Raffay is uncertain of his soccer future, as he’s in the final year of seminary school at Seton Hall, and will be a fully ordained Deacon in June, he said the program will be in good hands when the time is right. He noted that he has a wonderful assistant in Lindsay Schartner, who will do an awesome job.
“I don’t know what the future holds, but it’s been about the journey,” the father of four children said. “Coaching, it’s been great. When it’s time to turn it over to Lindsay, I’ll turn it over to her. She’s probably one of the best coaches I ever worked with.”