Wednesday, 06 November 2019 20:03

Raider Season Recap: 'Good competition' benefited Richmond in 2019

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Head coach Chris Larsen and the Raiders finished the season 10-10-2 and third place in the SAC standings. Head coach Chris Larsen and the Raiders finished the season 10-10-2 and third place in the SAC standings. Kyle Pillar — Sports Editor.

ROCKINGHAM — At the onset of the 2019 high school boys’ soccer season, second-year head coach Chris Larsen knew his team had a tough gauntlet ahead of it.


But that’s the way he wanted it, using the mindset that a tough slate early on would better prepare the Richmond Senior High School Raiders for their run through the Sandhills Athletic Conference. At season’s end, the Raiders earned third place in a tough SAC race, posting a 10-10-2 (9-5 SAC) record. 

For just the second time in the last 10 seasons, Richmond would miss the NCHSAA state playoffs (the other being 2017). To open the season, Larsen and company played a rigorous non-conference schedule that featured East Mecklenburg, Gray’s Creek, Porter Ridge, Pine Forest and Terry Sanford high schools.

Combined, those teams would finish the season 73-36-3 and each would make the state playoffs. The stiff competition early on, Larsen explained, benefitted his team in more ways than one.

“A tough non-conference schedule gave us a chance to see where we were outside of our conference,” he said. “It made the guys show up and play, and good competition only makes you better. I know at the end of the day it made us a better team.

“Even though we weren’t successful in the first half of the season in terms of win percentage, we benefited by being able to focus on ourselves more,” he added. “We figured out what worked and what didn’t work to get ready for conference. I wouldn’t do it any differently.”

This season’s team was comprised of 13 seniors, many of whom were multi-year starters for Larsen at the varsity level. Richmond scored a total of 37 goals (1.7 goals per game), with senior Lee Hayden leading the team with nine goals. Fellow seniors Noah Jordan (eight goals) and Luke Hawks (six goals) capped impressive careers with a combined 14 goals.

Also tallying multiple goals this season was junior Noah Aiken, who had a successful first year on varsity with four goals. Seniors Drew Davis and Joey Nicholson notched three and two goals, respectively, and five other players scored one goal.

Larsen admitted this season’s “Achilles heel was not being able to put the ball in the back of the net.” The Raiders would score two or more goals in just 11 of their 22 total games, netting a season-high six goals against Purnell Swett High School in the SAC tournament quarterfinals.

“I always put who I thought were our strongest 11 guys on the field and make it work,” Larsen explained. “One thing over the last two years we haven’t had is one dominant goal scorer. That makes us play more as a unit, but at the same time you don’t have someone who can score a goal when you need it. 

“Lee had some big weeks, and Noah and Noah each had a couple of good weeks scoring,” he added. “It forced guys step out of their shell and score. We didn’t succeed scoring consistently, but we were there to do it.”

Larsen joked that most games it seemed like the Raiders were just left, right, high or short of the 8x24 frame. The chances were plentiful, he said, but the team “just didn’t capitalize on them.”

The Raiders were also without their expected starting goalkeeper in junior Kaden Walker, who underwent ACL surgery at the start of the season. He played significant minutes as a sophomore last season, but the tandem of junior Jay Ammons and sophomore Jaden Wilson filled the void nicely.

Ammons and Wilson split time in net during the first half of the season before Ammons ultimately won the starting goalkeeper position. In front of him was a solid line of defense made up of Davis and seniors Evan Baxley, Justyn and Kevyn Leviner, Michael McLaurin and junior Bryan Stanback. The Raiders recorded two shutouts, both coming in the final two regular season games.

Two games that Larsen felt encapsulated his team’s fighting effort were wins against SAC opponents Jack Britt and Lumberton high schools late in the season. At home against Jack Britt on Oct. 9, the Raiders played to a scoreless draw before beating the Buccaneers 5-3 in penalty kicks.

A week later, on the road against the Pirates, Hayden scored two goals to help the Raiders come from behind in double overtime to keep their hold on third place in the standings. Larsen credited his team for stepping up in those moments because Richmond was “fighting for every win” at that point in the season.

The team’s final game was at Pinecrest High School in the SAC tournament semifinals. Although they would lose 2-0, Larsen said it was the “best game of soccer” the Raiders played all fall.

“Any time you can finish in the top half of the standings is good, but we wanted to match what we did last year,” Larsen mentioned of finishing tied for second in 2018. “Hoke County and Pinecrest were both really good this year in being able to score on our mistakes. We started figuring things out late and I think if we added another week, we could have surprised some people.”

Up next for Larsen will be the Lady Raiders’ season in the spring, but he’s also keeping in mind what the boys need to do to be successful next year.

 

“We’re losing a lot of seniors, so it’s going to be a change,” he closed. “Next year will be guys who I may not have coached before, but it’s a new group and a fresh start for the program. We will continue to get better at the areas we need to focus on to be successful.”

Kyle Pillar

Sports Editor. IUP communications media and journalism alumni. English teacher, Ninth Grade Academy.

Submit local sports scores to: kpillar@richmondobserver.com

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