ROCKINGHAM — A new season of Richmond Senior High School girls soccer begins on Tuesday, and with it comes the goal of continuing to grow the program’s success.
For the first time in three years, the Lady Raiders will play a full campaign this spring. After a second-place finish last season, which featured a playoff berth, Richmond is looking to make a bigger impact this year.
Head coach Chris Larsen enters his fourth season at the helm of the team, and is the reigning Sandhills Athletic Conference “coach of the year.”
The Lady Raiders also return three of their five all-conference selections from last spring, which saw the team finish with a 12-3 record. They are senior midfielder Ellie Buck, senior center back Paxlee Faircloth and junior center back Bobbie Faircloth.
Richmond will be without senior All-Conference midfielder Kaitlyn Huff, a Gardner-Webb signee, who is still recovering from a knee injury. But she’s expected to help the team from the sidelines.
“I know the team is really looking forward to this year,” Larsen said. “We’ve got some consistency on the field with a lot of girls who saw some playing time last year. We’re not going into the season cold, and those minutes picked up last year will help us.
“Not having Kaitlyn on the field hurts, but she has been helpful giving advice and gives the girls an extra set of eyes that are through a player’s perspective,” he added. “The girls are eager to get things started and hopefully we’ll be successful.”
Coach Chris Larsen works on drills with the team during practice earlier in the week. (Kyle Pillar/The Richmond Observer)
Richmond’s top two goal scorers last season were former senior Jayla McDougald (14 goals) and Huff (12). But junior midfielder Cheyenne Jacobs (5 goals) and Buck (4 goals) highlight a strong scoring attack.
Larsen noted that the most consistent position group returning is the defensive line, which features the Faircloth sisters in the middle. Flanking them at outside back are senior Meghan McKenzie and junior Kalei Sriratanakoul, both multiple-year varsity starters.
Those four will be expected to help stop opposing offenses from reaching the net, which will be minded by a new goalkeeper this season.
After four-year starter Kelly Hoffman graduated last year, Larsen said junior Chloe Nunn and freshman Quanna Bostic are vying for playing time between the posts.
While neither one has been named the starter yet, Larsen has used the team’s two scrimmages this spring to determine who will get more minutes. He plans to use both in goal during the early part of the season.
Senior Paxlee Faircloth (right) blocks a shot by junior teammate Jennifer Gomez. (Kyle Pillar/The Richmond Observer)
“The backline has been made up of the same four girls so I think we’ll play really well again this season,” Paxlee Faircloth, a three-year starter, said. “This isn’t a new job for us and we know what’s expected of us. We all work together really well.
“The defense really communicates well, which is important in games,” she added. “We expect to continue to work together as a team and hopefully win a lot of games.”
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.
Playing the majority of minutes at outside mid will be Buck and Jacobs, who Larsen anticipates stepping up their play on the pitch. Junior Rylie Bohman, who is a lefty, is an outside mid who “does a good job of understanding the game.”
A rotation of midfielders will include senior Destiny Barrick, who Larsen said will bring consistency.
Others are junior Jennifer Gomez, junior foreign exchange student Michala Nechvilova and sophomores Kaleigh Cloninger, Jenna Gardner, and Gabby Lutz, who are all making the jump to varsity full time.
Sophomore Allie Rodgers will also be joining the varsity ranks this season, and will likely run the forward position. When Larsen uses two players up top, Jacobs will likely be the second forward.
Junior Rylie Bohman attempts a shot on freshman goalkeeper Quanna Bostic. (Kyle Pillar/The Richmond Observer)
“I definitely feel like I have more of a responsibility with the team,” Buck, a four-year varsity player, said. “I’m much more vocal this year and try to give advice to the other girls.
“We have a lot of returning players from past years, so I think we’re going to do pretty good,” she added. “That familiarity allows us to work together well, and I want us to continue to improve on things like connecting passes so we can be competitive in the conference.”
The Lady Raiders will compete in the newly realigned SAC, which will see them face regular opponent Pinecrest High School, which was the 4A state runner-up last season. New is Union Pines High School, which made it to the third round of the 3A playoffs last season.
As one of just three 4A schools in the SAC, Richmond will have to compete with Pinecrest and Hoke County High School for playoff seeding.
“The split conference with the girls is different than the boys,” Larsen explained. “We want to win as many games as we can, and we know Pinecrest and Union Pines will be a test.
“We are hoping to be the second 4A team, and finish the season in second or third overall in the conference. Our main goal is to find a way to make it back to the state playoffs.”
The Lady Raiders will play 20 regular-season games this spring, starting with three next week.
Richmond will open with three road games — at Pine Forest (Tuesday), at Purnell Swett (Thursday) and at the Jordan Soccer Complex against Northwood (Saturday).
“The biggest thing I’m hoping for this year, regardless of wins or losses, is that I want to teach the game so the girls understand why we want them to do what they need to do,” Larsen closed. “The hope is for the girls to learn all that they can and use that to better the program.”