ROCKINGHAM — Breaking a program record, securing the conference’s No. 2 seed and getting the opportunity to play at home in the postseason is what Bennie Howard would call “a successful season.”
The Richmond girls soccer team recently wrapped the 2018 campaign with a loss to Porter Ridge, which bumped it out of the first round of the NCHSAA 4A State Playoffs for the fourth straight season, but that doesn’t take away the fact that it made history and ended a drought right before Howard retired from his position as head coach.
The Lady Raiders set a new single-season record with 17 wins and hosted a state-playoff game for the first time in 14 years.
“We knew coming into this year that we had the tools to be successful. It just all depended on how well they wanted to gel together and play as a unit,” Howard said. “They believed in what we were trying to do from day one and I thought we did a pretty good job of playing as a team. I’m very happy with what the girls did.
“It was a good send off,” Howard said of this past season as he reflected on his coaching career. “There’s not enough paper and not enough ink to say thanks to everybody, but they know who they are and they’re greatly appreciated.”
Senior striker Hanna Millen finished the season with a team-high 13 goals, junior midfielders Morgan Hooks and Chloe Wiggins tied for second with 12 goals each and junior midfielder Jayana Nicholson was third with nine goals.
Millen took advantage of Hoke County’s scattered defensive tendencies by netting two hat tricks in three games against the Lady Bucks, accomplishing the feat back in March and doing so again in the first round of the conference tournament.
Hooks scored three goals — as did junior forward Jessi Graham — when Richmond hosted conference foe Seventy-First the first time around. Wiggins, who ended the year with a team-best 15 assists, went on an offensive tear in the regular-season finale and poked four goals in the back of the net in the team’s second meeting with the Lady Falcons.
Sophomore goalkeeper Allexis Swiney recorded 114 saves during her first year in goal.
“That is a testament to the girls because they’ve been playing in travel leagues, and that just gives them more touches on the ball and more of knowledge of the game,” Howard added. “And they’ve brought that out to Richmond.”
Howard has the program heading in the right direction as he now hands the reigns over to Chris Larsen, whose spent the past six years as an assistant on the varsity level and head coach for both junior varsity teams.
The Lady Raiders have improved their record every season since 2014, finished the past three years with more wins than losses — something that hadn’t been done in more than decade prior to the 2016 season — and made it to back-to-back conference tournament championship games.
They also went on few separate win streaks — three or more consecutive victories — during the 2018 season: opening with three consecutive wins, grabbing four straight in the last two weeks of March, and then going on a seven-game streak that started during the latter part of the regular season and carried over into the first two games of the conference tournament.
So, Larsen is taking over at a good time.
“He knows what has to be done out on a daily basis. Not just showing up to practice and coaching the games, but driving the bus, cutting the grass, painting the field, weed eating, killing ants and raising money,” Howard said of Larsen. “I could not have asked for a better person to take over. I’m at peace and I’m happy for him.”
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.