ROCKINGHAM — Richmond Senior soccer coach Bennie Howard is tired of hitting the road for the first round of the state 4A playoffs.
He is hoping to break the six-year stretch of being road warriors during the post-season.
The Raiders were 8-9-1 last year, but were 6-4 in Southeastern Conference play to finish third. Richmond traveled to Pfafftown to square off with Reagan in the first round of playoffs, falling 4-0.
Howard believes he has the team to bring a playoff game back to Rockingham.
“I have been preaching and talking about playing soccer year around for many a year,” Howard said. “This group of varsity players, 16 of them and the 14 on JV, have played travel soccer this past spring. Both teams did very well. They both went to the state cup and came in second.
“That is going to transfer to the fall here at Richmond. I think if we can keep level heads and play for what is on the front of the jersey versus what is on the back of the jersey, I think we can go deep in the playoffs. That’s to be seen, I think if we take each game one at a time and prepare for it and go in it and play, like I know we can play, I think we will be successful.”
Sergio Chaparro and Armando Garcia were both named to the all-conference team last year and are expected to start at forward. Chaparro scored a team-high 13 goals and added four assists. He was also selected to the North Carolina Soccer Coaches Association all-region team. Garcia had 11 goals and three assists.
Richmond lost three key contributors off last season’s team — goalkeeper Logan Deese, midfielder Brandon Ingram and forward Juan Onesto. All were also all-conference performers.
Despite having his only pre-season contests rained out at Hoke earlier this week, Howard said he has an idea of who will be on the field in Monday’s opener at Union Pines.
“In my mind, I pretty much have a starting lineup made in my mind based on what they have done in the spring and what they have done in summer workouts, but that is subject to change,” Howard said. “I don’t want the ones that are sitting on the bench to say ‘OK, well, I’m not going to get playing time.’ I want them to push those 11 just as hard as someone would push them. I have 13 seniors, so 11 are underclassman. I want those underclassmen to get as much playing time as the seniors to prepare for next year.
“We are going to have depth on the bench, so when I do sub, we aren’t going to lack the ability to control possession of the ball and knock it around and still put the ball in the back of the net.”
Even with the excitement of the upcoming season and the belief of competing with Lumberton and Pinecrest for the championship, Howard is cautioning his team to not let expectations get the best of them.
“We can’t just show up and think it’s going to be an easy W, we’ve got to play no matter who it is,” Howard said. “If we go into Game No. 1 and don’t play, we’re going to be 0-1 at the end of the 80 minutes. So we’ve got to be humble in this process. we can’t go in thinking we’re all that. I have been stressing it to the guys that right now we’re picked third or fourth. If we don’t improve on that, that’s where we will be — third or fourth again.”
Reach sports editor Shawn Stinson at 910-817-2671 or on Twitter @scgolfer.