ROCKINGHAM — Chris Larsen has known for a few years now that his time was coming.
He’s spent the past six seasons as an assistant coach for the Richmond boys and girls varsity soccer teams and, during that time, engaged in numerous conversations about how he should be the one to take over once Bennie Howard retires.
So it wasn’t much of a surprise — six days after Howard coached the final game of his 24-year career with the girls team, his 30th overall with the Raiders program — when Larsen was officially named Richmond’s head coach Tuesday afternoon.
“I know it’s been coming because we’ve talked about making that transition, but I don’t think it’s really hit yet. It’s happened so quick,” he said. “I’m just glad to finally have the title and to be given the opportunity.”
Larsen, who will be only the third coach in program history, played soccer at Richmond for four seasons (2003-07) under Howard’s tutelage before going off to East Carolina University. He kept in contact throughout his college years and eventually made his way back to Richmond County upon graduating from ECU in 2012.
Since, he has also acted as head coach of the junior varsity teams and led both squads to at least 10 wins each year. This past girls season, which just ended three weeks ago, the JV Lady Raiders finished 10-2 overall.
“We’ve been competitive on the JV level, but it’s step up when you go to varsity,” he explained. “We’ve been able to develop their fundamentals (on the JV level), which I think has helped us consistently progress in the right direction (on varsity).”
The former Raider will inherit a boys team that lost a dozen seniors from the 2017 campaign, but will be returning a few key pieces this fall that can help the team bounce back from what Howard called an ‘up-and-down season.’
On the girls side of things, Larsen will bring back the majority of this year’s team that set a program record for most wins in a single season (17) and earned a high-enough seed to host a playoff game for the first time in since 2004.
His goal with both squads will always be, he says, to fight for first place in the Sandhills Athletic Conference, have a chance to play for the conference tournament championship and break the first-round curse that has haunted the program.
“We’ve struggled to get out of that first round. Like the girls this year, we were able to compete but we just missed out on making it out of the first round,” he said. “So my goal is to continue the good things we’ve done but to progress and be one of those contenders who constantly make it to the second round and break into the third round.
“And then work towards making it further and further into the playoffs.”
Howard said he couldn’t have asked for a better person to take over the Richmond soccer program, maintaining that Larsen has grown and matured into a coach who “knows what has to be done out here on a daily basis.”
“I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for the coaches I had, so I hope to be able to instill the values I’ve learned throughout my career into these kids to make them better people,” Larsen added.
Reach sports editor Leon Hargrove Jr. by phone at 910-817-2673 or by email at [email protected] For stories, scores and updates, follow the Daily Journal’s sports section on Twitter @RCDailySports.