Monday, 11 January 2021 19:05

Raider soccer focuses on fundamentals, fitness during first day

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Junior Alex Medina uses his chest to control the ball while fellow junior Cody Eason works defense during Monday's tryout. Junior Alex Medina uses his chest to control the ball while fellow junior Cody Eason works defense during Monday's tryout. Kyle Pillar — Sports Editor.

ROCKINGHAM — The familiar sound of soccer balls being kicked around the pitch made its official return to Richmond Senior High School on Monday.


Third-year head coach Chris Larsen and the Raider soccer program held its first day of tryouts on the opening day of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s next sports season.

Hopeful players for both the junior varsity and varsity soccer teams battled a cold rain, while wearing masks and practicing social distancing. The NCHSAA mandates that players and coaches must wear face coverings during all practices and games.

A total of 28 players worked out for the junior varsity squad, along with JV head coach Tad Hamilton and assistant Bennie Howard. Nineteen upperclassmen participated in the varsity tryout, the first of three tryouts before the final team is posted.

While he considered the first day a success, Larsen said one of the biggest obstacles is acclimating the team to wearing face masks. He compared it to pro football players competing at a higher altitude like in Denver, and said the change won’t happen overnight.

“It was good to be back and we managed to get a good practice in despite the rain and the cold,” Larsen said. “The biggest adjustment is going to be getting used to the masks. It’s the first time for a lot of them to learn how to exercise with a mask.

“It’s more of a mindset thing for the kids, and that’ll be one of our biggest focal points over the next couple of weeks,” he continued. “Getting back in shape while wearing masks is going to be an uphill climb, but we’re going to take it step by step.”

Larsen said he was pleased with the total number of players to come out to tryouts, and said he’s aware that the pandemic and academic eligibility has had an impact on potential players.

Split into two squads to limit the amount of exposure to one another, both teams stretched and opened with a series of conditioning drills. That was followed by a series of fundamental drills, featuring passing, speed, agility, footwork and communication workouts.

Among those in attendance for the varsity team who played a significant number of minutes in 2019 were current seniors Noah Aiken, Jay Ammons, Hector Castro, Cale Luckey, Jaxon Mabe, River Meacham, Bradford Pittman and Bryan Stanback. 

Junior Alex Medina looks to return after playing varsity last year, and several fellow juniors including Cody Eason, Justin McDougald, Keaton Sweatt and Luke Williams, hope to make a successful jump to the next level.

Seniors Bradford Pittman (foreground) and River Meacham work on passing drills during Monday’s tryout.

With just a two-week window to hold tryouts and practices before the program’s first game on Monday, Jan. 25, Larsen acknowledged the importance of getting his players up to speed quickly.

“We want to focus on fundamentals and fitness right now,” Larsen said. “Every team is going to be in the same boat with not a lot of time to prepare, but if we are consistent in our fundamentals, we’ll be okay.

“There are a lot of guys on varsity who played and practiced a lot together last year, and that really helps us going into the season. It’s just a matter of finding that chemistry, picking it up and filling in some people in certain positions.”

Larsen also expects players to play outside of their usual comfort zones to accommodate the unique circumstances surrounding the season, but he feels confident he’s got the personnel to do it with.

“All of the guys know what’s expected of them at each position. We are going to take this season for what it is and do the best we can.”

Senior Hector Castro makes a play on the ball while senior Bryan Stanback applies defensive pressure.

The soccer program will hold two more days of tryouts and begin practice on Thursday. Richmond’s varsity team is tentatively scheduled for a scrimmage at Gray’s Creek High School on Friday, Jan. 22, at 6 p.m.

The Raiders will play a shortened, 14-game regular season starting at Purnell Swett High School. Richmond will play two rounds against Sandhills Athletic Conference opponents and look to make the postseason for the first time since 2018.

RO Sports will publish a complete season preview next week.

Kyle Pillar

Three-time award-winning sports editor. Indiana University of Pennsylvania communications media and journalism alumni. English teacher, Ninth Grade Academy.

Submit local sports scores to: kpillar@richmondobserver.com

Twitter: ROSports_