ROCKINGHAM — Unlike their football brethen, the soccer coaches of the Southeastern Conference don’t have a pre-season poll.
If they did, there would be little doubt on the team to beat this season. In fact, it has been the same squad to beat the previous five years — Pinecrest.
The Patriots have won the previous five regular season championships since the SEC was reformed in 2009.
In those five years, Lumberton has finished second four times and Hoke was the runner-up in 2010. Richmond’s best finish during this time was last season, when it was third.
The conference sent three teams to last year’s 4A playoffs — Pinecrest, Lumberton and Richmond — after the NCHSAA trimmed the plus-one from automatically qualifying.
Pinecrest advanced to the third round of the playoffs, falling to Sanderson 3-1. Lumberton lost in the second round and Richmond was eliminated in the first round.
Can anyone top Pinecrest this season?
Pinecrest has been knocked off by both Hoke and Lumberton during their five-year reign. So the team isn’t invincible, but those losses were avenged as the Patriots recovered to still win the conference.
Unlike the rest of the teams in the conference, Pinecrest never seems to be in a rebuilding mode. It seems to just replace players and keep on winning. But the margin of error does appear to be getting smaller.
The best threat to end Pinecrest’s run atop the SEC might be Lumberton, but Richmond coach Bennie Howard believes his team could have the talent this year to make a run.
Will Purnell Swett win an SEC game this year?
Since Purnell Swett started its soccer program, the other members of the SEC have been able to circle those two contests as “guaranteed” wins. But with each passing year, the Rams are getting more athletes to come out for the team.
Even though its talent level doesn’t match a Pinecrest, Purnell Swett is getting closer and closer to grabbing a conference victory.
It is doubtful the drought will end this year, but if a team overlooks Purnell Swett it shouldn’t be a surprise to see the Rams pull off the upset.
Can Richmond get a home playoff game?
The Raiders have been road warriors when it comes to the postseason. Since the 2008 season, Richmond has played all of its playoff contests away from Raider Stadium.
Howard hoped to snap that streak last season, but came up just short as the team traveled to Pfafftown to battle Ronald Reagan in the opening round.
If this year’s Raiders come together like Howard believes they can, there will be no bus rides for Richmond in the first round.
Reach sports editor Shawn Stinson at 910-817-2671 or on Twitter @scgolfer.