Tuesday, 19 February 2019 23:48

Lady Raider Soccer Season Preview: Larsen looking to build on success with senior-heavy team

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Head coach Chris Larsen hopes to see last season's successes carry over into the 2019 girls' soccer season. Head coach Chris Larsen hopes to see last season's successes carry over into the 2019 girls' soccer season. Kyle Pillar — The Richmond Observer.

ROCKINGHAM — A senior-heavy team that recorded a program-best number of wins as juniors last year is a pretty good way for Richmond Senior High School head soccer coach Chris Larsen to start his first spring season.

Larsen, who took over the boys’ and girls’ soccer teams last summer, is looking to build off of the Lady Raiders’ success a season ago. As an assistant under Bennie Howard, Larsen helped coach Richmond to a 17-6 overall record, a tie for second place in the Sandhills Athletic Conference, and earned a home playoff game for the first time since 2004.

But now he’s looking to take the Lady Raiders to the next level under his watch in 2019, as the team will see 11 seniors returning to the pitch for their final go-around.

“Most of the girls will be able to pick up from last year, which was the best record we’ve ever had,” Larsen commented. “I know they are really looking to keep that going. We only lost four seniors, so as a team, we shouldn’t miss a beat.

“The roles we’re missing are being replaced by varsity and junior varsity girls who have quality minutes,” he added. “We’re just trying to get back in the swing of things.”

The Lady Raiders lost Hanna Millen, the team’s leading scorer a year ago, to graduation. But the good news is the return of current seniors Morgan Hooks (forward) and Chloe Wiggins (midfielder), both of whom netted 12 goals during their junior campaigns.

Also back for their senior campaigns are Jayana Nicholson (midfielder) and Jessi Graham (forward), who scored nine and six goals, respectively, last season. Another notable returning scorer is junior Avy Lucero, as she’s looking to build off of her six goals out of the backfield.

During the fall, Larsen went to work making “minor tweaks” to the Richmond boys’ soccer team, and plans to do the same with the Lady Raiders.

“The system is similar to the boys, which is a variation of a 4-3-3 that’s tweaked to fit the team,” Larsen explained. “It can change to fit the personnel or opponent that we’re playing, but skill-wise, we should be more aggressive from having so much experience on the field.”

That experience comes from a strong senior class that has seen many of its players compete at the varsity level for the last season or two. Larsen noted that two seasons ago, the current seniors came onto the varsity scene “as one big sophomore class” that endured its “fair share of growing pains” before finding success as juniors.

Adding that big groups tend to “come in cycles,” Larsen has “high aspirations” for all of his players during the 2019 season.

Other returners are senior Methodist University commit Tatum Hubbard, who has been a staple in the defense the past two seasons. Fans can also expect to see senior midfielders Emily Parsons and Kaiyah Sriratanakoul, juniors Emily Buie, Carley Lambeth and Valery Standridge, as well as sophomores Kelly Hoffman and Caroline Whitley contribute this spring.

New faces to the varsity team this year include junior varsity call-ups Kelsey Sheffield and  Aerial Spooner, and freshman Kaitlyn Huff.

“The pieces are coming together nicely,” Larsen commented as the team gets its first couple of official practices in. “I have confidence in the girls who are here to make we want to happen actually happen.”

Also new to the Lady Raider soccer team is assistant coach Michelle Denson. Having helped coach under Howard in the past, Denson brings with her college playing experience from Louisburg College. Heading up the junior varsity team is former Belmont Abbey College soccer player Tad Hamilton, who also coached the JV boys.

Larsen explained having coaches like Denson and Hamilton “is beneficial” to the growth of the program. He looks forward to “having their experience and expertise” on the sidelines this spring.

In terms of season expectations, Larsen is hoping his team can unseat rival Pinecrest High School, which has won the last four regular season conference championships. But he also expects his players to make every one of their 20 games this season competitive.

“We’re always shooting for an SAC championship, but we really just want to be competitive in every game,” Larsen explained. “If we take care of business during the regular season, we can make it nice for ourselves during the postseason. Our first goal is to focus on our conference schedule and finish at the top.

“The girls have the ability to produce goals,” he continued. “A good regular season can turn into the state playoffs, which is not a guarantee. With all the right pieces together we can make it happen. A personal goal of mine would be to make it to the second or third round of the playoffs.”

The Lady Raiders will get their first live taste of action this spring on Saturday in the “Kicking for Cancer” jamboree at South View High School. Richmond will compete in three scrimmages against Cape Fear (10 a.m.), South Columbus (11 a.m.) and Scotland (1 p.m.) high schools.

“Going into the year, I’m excited about the girls,” Larsen said. “We have high expectations, and we should be able to do what we need to do. I was pleased with the boys in the fall with how we were always in the game, and I want the girls to also always be in striking distance of a win.

“As a team, you don’t want there to be just one or two players who score all the goals,” he concluded. “Our goal is to spread the love, and until we get some action, we won’t know what we have until we tweak system ahead of the season opener.”

The Lady Raiders open their season against Piedmont High School (Monroe, N.C.) on Friday, March 1, at 7 p.m. 

Last modified on Tuesday, 19 February 2019 23:49
Kyle Pillar

Sports Editor. IUP alumni. English teacher, Ninth Grade Academy. Sports guru. Eagle Scout. Motorcycle enthusiast. Pretend golfer. Avid reader. Pennsylvania native. 

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