Home Local Sports SEASON PREVIEW: Lady Raiders looking to climb conference standings, return to postseason

SEASON PREVIEW: Lady Raiders looking to climb conference standings, return to postseason

Returning All-Conference junior midfielder Gabby Lutz (left) receives a pass from coach Chris Larsen during Wednesday's practice. (Kyle Pillar, sports editor)

ROCKINGHAM — A new season of Richmond Senior High School girls’ soccer begins on Monday, and with it, the hope of an improved campaign this spring.

Fifth-year head coach Chris Larsen and the Lady Raiders have spent the last few weeks holding practice in preparation for a 21-match regular-season schedule.

Richmond will look to build off of a 10-12-1 overall record last spring, which yielded a 4-7-1 record against Sandhills Athletic Conference opponents and a fifth-place finish.

In what Larsen called a “top-heavy” conference, the Lady Raiders will face reigning co-conference champions Pincrest and Union Pines high schools twice this season. 

He also expects the other four programs — Hoke County, Lee County, Scotland and Southern Lee — to be competitive.

But with the right amount of work and growth throughout the season, Larsen believes Richmond can compete for the second or third-place spot. 

Another goal for the Lady Raiders is to return to the 4A East postseason, a feat they’ve achieved in all of Larsen’s years at the helm of the program (except the pandemic-shortened 2020 season).

Of the 22 players on this year’s roster, a dozen of them are returners, many of whom had starting roles.

In between the posts will be sophomore goalkeeper Quanna Bostick, returning for her second year as a starter. Seniors Rylie Bohman and Kalei Sriratanakoul, a four-year starter, along with sophomore Nevaeh Harris return as members of the defensive line.

Most of the returning Lady Raiders are midfielders, led by Gabby Lutz, who comes back for her junior season following an All-Conference performance last spring. A facilitator of the offense at center-mid, Lutz netted two goals last year.

Other midfielders are seniors Jenifer Gomez (three-year starter), C’Nedra Hinson, Sheccid Heaton and Cheyenne Jacobs, joined by juniors Kaleigh Cloninger and Jenna Gardner. 

Jacobs, who also returns as a three-year starter, was the team’s leading goal scorer as a junior. She netted seven goals from her outside-mid position.

The lone returning forward, who was second on the team with six goals last season, is junior Allie Rodgers.

Senior Cheyenne Jacobs, shown during tryouts, returns as the Lady Raiders’ leading goal scorer. (Kyle Pillar/The Richmond Observer)

Newcomers to the varsity level include seniors Rebeca Avalos (defender) and Tatum Rhyne (goalkeeper), and junior midfielders Shiana Chaparro and Evie Howell.

Also making the jump are five sophomores — midfielders Mariana Mendez and Hanna Smith, defenders Cate Kinsey and Ava Thompson and forward Ashly Gonzalez. Freshman midfielder Yulissa Mendez rounds out the varsity squad.

Without 12 players from last season’s roster (seven graduates, five not returning), Larsen is no stranger to mixing experience and youth and readjusting his lineup.

On the field, the Lady Raiders will use a variety of schemes to try and clinch their first conference title during Larsen’s tenure. Depending on personnel and opponents, he said the team will use a mixture of a 4-1-4-1, a 4-3-3 or a 4-4-2 setup.

While talented in several positions across the pitch, Larsen’s primary concern for the team this spring is to produce goals. 

A season ago, Richmond averaged just 1.48 goals per match, a number Larsen said has to increase to climb the conference standings and return to playoffs. 

This preseason, Larsen noted the team has spent more time practicing scoring techniques. He added that “taking advantage of (scoring) opportunities” is a must.

The team will also need to fill the void left in the back line, replacing two former starters in Bobbie and Paxlee Faircloth. Larsen expects Bohman and Harris to take on those roles.

The Lady Raiders will play in two scrimmages this week, starting with a trip to Hoke County High School on Thursday. 

That will be followed by a pre-season meeting at Independence High School on Saturday.

Larsen and company will kick off the season with three non-conference road matches next week, beginning at Montgomery Central High School on Monday. Varsity will start at 6 p.m.

SEASON SCHEDULE: Click here for an updated season schedule for the Richmond girls’ soccer team.

Follow The Richmond Observer on Twitter @ROSports_ for live updates, interviews and more.

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Kyle Pillar is a 16-time North Carolina Press Association award-winning sports editor with The Richmond Observer. Follow the sports department on Twitter @ROSports_ for the best in-depth coverage of Richmond County sports.