ROCKINGHAM — Although it had more than enough talent on its roster, the Richmond boys soccer team couldn’t quite figure out how to “gel together” in head coach Bennie Howard’s final year on the sidelines.
When it was all said and done, the Raiders finished the season with an 11-9-1 overall record and a 7-6-1 conference record, placing fifth in the final Sandhills Athletic Conference standings and missing out on the NCHSAA 4A State Playoffs for the first time since 2009.
A big difference from a year ago, when Howard watched the 2016 team lose only three games and sweep through conference play on its way to being crowned conference champions. That squad was fueled by former players Alex Alvarado and Corey Smith, who both brought strong senses of leadership.
“You always think, going into the next year, that you’re going to be able to replace those types of caliber of players. And we did replace them to a certain degree — skill-wise and with our ability to score,” Howard said. “But the quality of leadership we had last year, I don’t think we had (this year). I think that had a role in how things turned out.
“It was an up-and-down season. I agree with that 100 percent.”
Richmond started the 2017 season with three consecutive wins — scoring a total of eight goals and only allowing one — but struggled to remain consistent after that, losing four of its next six matches. It fell to Pine Forest (5-1), Pinecrest (5-1), Jack Britt (2-1) and Forest Hills (4-3) during that span.
Howard said throughout the season, and reiterated the sentiment at the year’s conclusion, that there were times when players would try and take over the game by themselves whenever the team got down on the scoreboard, instead of playing within the team and working together in order to cut into the deficit.
Those struggles to find that necessary chemistry resulted in the Raiders scrambling to improve their conference record as the regular season neared its end. But they couldn’t turn things around and ended up being bounced from the SAC tournament by Pinecrest, in the semifinal round, last Wednesday.
“It’s not the way we wanted the season to end, especially with it being my last one with the boys,” Howard said. “But I’m hoping the group that comes back will recognize and learn from the mistakes we made and try to get this ship pointed back in the right direction.”
Despite its inconsistency, Richmond was still able to showcase the amount of talent it had on the field.
Senior midfielder Victor Lucero netted four goals against Scotland on Senior Night and would finish with a team-high 15 goals on the season. Junior midfielder Carlos Alcocer, who won Conference Player of the Year in 2016, finished second on the team with 14 scores and a team-high five assists.
Seniors Brett Baucom (7) , Patrick Hamilton (6) and Jonathan Tadlock (6) all finished with at least five goals, while sophomore Noah Jordan (4) was the only other player with more than one score in the 21 games played.
The Raiders had four goalkeepers play significat minutes this past season, with senior Marco Acosta recording 132 saves to lead the way. Seniors Yash Patel and Ben Morrison finished with 20 and 16 saves, respectively, and junior Jackson Haley tallied 15.
“This group of guys, they are special,” Howard added. “Every group I’ve ever had, guys and girls, are special. I hold them all in my heart with great love and I’d do anything in the world for any of them.”
Howard is calling it quits after dedicating 30 years to the boys soccer program. He won 289 games, five Coach of the Year awards and three conference championship during his tenure.
In his retirement, Howard would love to see junior varsity head coach Chris Larsen take over the reigns of the varsity squad.
“He knows what he’s doing, he’s got talent coming off the JV team and he’s got some talent coming back (from varsity),” Howard said of Larsen. “I’m wishing him the best for next season.”
Reach sports editor Leon Hargrove Jr. at 910-817-2673 and follow the sports section on Twitter @RCDailySports.
The Richmond boys soccer team wrapped up its 2017 season with a loss to Pinecrest in the second round of the Sandhills Athletic Conference tournament last Wednesday. It finished the season with an 11-9-1 overall record and a 7-6-1 conference record, which was good enough for fifth place in the final SAC standings.