ROCKINGHAM — Seniors Cassie McFayden, Tatyana Gould and Cameron Hudson are expected to lead a “very young” Richmond Senior girls soccer team this spring.
Heading into next week’s opener, Richmond’s roster consists of three soon-to-be graduates, eight juniors, seven sophomores and four freshmen. Head coach Bennie Howard understands there will be some growing pains throughout the season, but he believes this year’s group has what it takes to build on last year’s success.
“As the kids would say these days, you better not sleep on us — because we’ve got some talent,” Howard said.
Richmond is coming off one of its strongest years in recent memory, as it finished the 2016 season with a winning record for the first time in a decade. The team’s 11-10-2 record led to a third-place finish in the conference and a state playoff berth.
McFayden, Morgan Hooks, Hailey Bass and Destiny Buie were all selected to last season’s All-SEC team, while Gould was named co-Goalkeeper of the Year. Of the five who were recognized, only three are returning this spring — Bass and Buie elected not to come back.
With those openings in the roster, Howard believes it gives a few of the younger players an opportunity to step up and fill the roles of two players who would’ve had a major impact on the team. He had an opportunity to see the underclassmen in game action this past Saturday at the Hoke County Jamboree, where Richmond defeated Gray’s Creek and Douglas Byrd.
“So far we’ve been playing well,” Howard explained. “But this coming Saturday (Feb. 25) at the Kicking for Cancer, that’s going to be a test for us. We have Overhills, Lumberton and then Seventy-First.”
The Lady Raiders are dealing with a few small injuries while participating in pre-season scrimmages. They’ve yet to hold a practice where everyone on the roster is in attendance, as injuries, sicknesses and other obligations have kept the team limited during preparation.
Until those situations are figured out, Richmond will rely heavily on the players who produced at a high rate last season.
McFayden, who plays midfield, finished her junior campaign with nine goals and nine assists. She recently signed her letter of intent to Lees-McRae College and is one of the captains this season.
Gould recorded 145 saves last season and, according to Howard, made an “unbelievable” save in the team’s scrimmage against Gray’s Creek at the jamboree. Howard says Gould needs to be consistent throughout the year.
Hooks, a sophomore striker, recorded 10 goals in her freshman season — which leads all returners. She recorded a hat trick in last year’s regular-season finale against Scotland.
Altman Griffin, a junior, will be making a position switch this spring. Griffin was used as midfielder last season, but after seeing her performance in the State Games as a center back, Howard decided she would have a greater impact for the Lady Raiders in that same role.
“And with her height, I can push her up on set pieces, free kicks and things of that nature,” Howard added. “When we get a lead, I can move her to midfield and she can play there…She’s not missed a beat.”
Howard expects those with experience to step up and be leaders in practices and during the games. He believes his team has a chance at finish as one of the top two teams in the conference, as Pinecrest and Lumberton are consistently tough opponents.
“We always want to take first, but we know it’s going to be tough,” he added. “We can’t take anybody lightly because everybody has played somewhat year-round. So, we can’t take no days off.”
Richmond opens up its season at home Monday at 6 p.m. against Seventy-First. That will be the first of a four-game home stand before it hits the road to take on High Point Central on Thursday, Mar. 9.
The Lady Raiders have 22 games scheduled for the regular season.
“I just want us to win more than we lose. And I think we’ve got a good shot of doing that,” Howard said. “The girls have played well and have worked hard so far. I’m excited for the 27th.”
Reach sports editor Leon Hargrove Jr. at 910-817-2673 and follow the sports section on Twitter @RCDailySports.
The Richmond Senior girls soccer team kicks off its season Monday at home against Seventy-First. Head coach Bennie Howard says he’s counting on his upperclassmen to lead the way this spring.