ROCKINGHAM — For the final 30 minutes of practice on Monday, Chris Larsen didn’t say much as he watched the Richmond Raider soccer team compete in an intrasquad scrimmage.
When the final whistle blew, the sixth-year head coach told the team that if the Raiders play with that type of tenacity and precision this fall, then it’s going to be a success.
As the clock winds down to the start of the 2023 high school fall sports season, the Raiders will join the volleyball team as the school’s first teams in action next Monday.
Richmond brings more experience and depth to the pitch this fall, something Larsen anticipates will help the team bounce back from missing the playoffs last year.
In 2022, the Raiders won just six games and finished sixth in the Sandhills Athletic Conference standings with a 5-9 record.
But with last year in the rearview mirror, and the return of 13 players who saw varsity action a season ago, the expectation for the Raiders is to remain competitive in the SAC and make their way back to the postseason.
Among those returning with significant minutes include seniors Jesus Castro (center mid), James Eason (forward), Daniel Jaimes (center mid) and Diego Mendez (center back).
Returning juniors who contributed in 2022 are Noah Gil (forward), Gonzalo Morales (midfielder), Adrian Padron (goalkeeper), Jeremiah Ritter (outside back) and Landon Summerlin (midfielder).
Eason and Padron also return as the Raiders’ only two All-Conference selections last year.
The remaining roster is made up of seniors Giovanni Armenta, Edwin Estrada, Samuel Hawks, Vernan McDonald, juniors Antonio Franco, Drew Hudson, Daryan Mendez, Jonathan Padron, sophomores Memphis Jacobs, Kimahri Johnson and freshman Daniel Gomez.
Eason and Gil also return as the top-two goal scorers from last year, respectively. Eason netted 11 goals and Gil added six.
Larsen hopes to use their speed up top to run two forwards, a scheme he believes will yield more quality attempts on net, an area of the game Richmond has struggled with.
Castro, who was tied for third on the team with four goals as a junior, will also be another legitimate scoring threat while also captaining the center midfield position.
While Richmond will work on solidifying its rotations, Larsen expects Jaimes and Morales to also be a regular part of the midfield. Summerlin, who is left-footed and scored twice as a sophomore, will patrol the left outside mid position.
In the backfield, the Raiders will be without two of its starters from last season. But Diego Mendez and Ritter will fill up two of those four slots in front of Adrian Padron between the posts.
Richmond competes in a perennially tough SAC, which has been led by Lee County and Pinecrest high schools, respectively, the past two years.
To help prepare the team to make a run into the top three spots, with the ultimate goal of winning the conference, Larsen has stacked the Raiders’ non-conference schedule.
Featured matchups include Porter Ridge, Independence, Uwharrie Charter, Sun Valley, East Mecklenburg and Piedmont high schools.
Within the SAC, the Raiders will contend with four teams — Lee County, Pinecrest, Southern Lee and Hoke County — which all finished with a .500 or better record last season.
The Raiders’ hopeful climb toward the top of the SAC standings begins Monday, Aug. 14, on the road at non-conference St. Pauls High School (6 p.m.).
That will be the first of two matches in three days to start the season, with a road trip to non-conference Porter Ridge set for Wednesday, Aug. 16 (7 p.m.).
The Richmond Observer will continue its award-winning coverage of the varsity and junior varsity soccer teams this fall.