It was no secret that the 2017 boys soccer season and the 2018 girls soccer season would be the final runs for former head coach Bennie Howard, who spent the last three decades running the Richmond soccer programs.
Howard made it clear heading into the school year that was he ready to “change horses” once the girls season wrapped up, and was campaigning for Chris Larsen — junior varsity coach for the past six seasons — to be his successor once he retired.
Both of his wishes were granted last month, as Howard coached the final game of his 30-year career on May 9 and then passed the torch to his mentee six days later, May 15, when Larsen was officially named head coach of both soccer teams.
The Richmond boys soccer team never found its rhythm in the midst of Howard’s last hurrah and ended the season with an 11-9-1 overall record — missing out of the NCHSAA 4A State Playoffs for the first time in nine years. The newly retired coach was able to, however, reach the 500 career-win milestone thanks to the boys’ Senior Night victory over Scotland on Oct. 18.
“It’s not the way we wanted the season to end,” 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.”
Howard’s last go-round with the girls team was a bit more smooth, as he led the Lady Raiders to a single-season program record 17 wins, the runner-up spot in the Sandhills Athletic Conference and a second consecutive appearance in the conference tournament championship game. They also hosted a state-playoff game for the first time in 14 seasons.
Things were looking good for the girls in their first-round playoff matchup against Porter Ridge — they took a 2-0 lead in after Chloe Wiggins’ early second-half score — but the Pirates netted three unanswered goals in order to escape with the win.
“I hate that we bowed out of the first round on our home turf in my last game, but it’s got to come to an end somewhere,” Howard said after the loss. “I’m proud of the girls. We played hard and they did a great job, so I can’t complain.”
He finished his career — which started back in 1987 when he joined the boys soccer team’s coaching staff as a volunteer — with 518 wins (289 boys, 229 girls), five conference championships (three boys, two girls), eight Conference Coach of the Year awards (five boys, three girls) and two Region 4 Coach of the Year honors (2014, 2016).
Nearly a week after Howard put the bow on his run with the program, Larsen talked about how excited he was to get the opportunity to “instill the values I’ve learned throughout my career into these kids to make them better people.”
WHAT WAS SAID
“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.”
“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,” Larsen said after being named coach. “I’m just glad to finally have the title and to be given the opportunity.”
Howard wants to do a lot of traveling since his coaching career has come to an end, naming California, the Caribbean or Germany — where he was born — as potential destinations. He may show up at a few home games next season in order to the run the clock and announce games next year, he said last summer, but he doesn’t plan on going back to the sidelines.
As for Larsen, who will be only the third soccer coach in school history, he’s preparing for the program’s annual development camp that kicks off next week. Afterwards, his focus will shift to getting the boys team — which has more than a dozen players returning — back on track in time for the 2018 season.
Bennie Howard recently retired from his position as head coach of the Richmond soccer program after 30 seasons. He now hands the job over to Chris Larsen, who spent the last six years coaching the junior varsity teams.
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.