LUMBERTON — As the season begins for girls soccer teams around the county, several programs are working to improve while filling the voids left by last year’s graduates. Here is a look at how Robeson County’s four teams are preparing for this year.
Lady Rams Look to Build Off Record-Breaking Season
Purnell Swett sophomore Abi Lowry wasn’t finished after setting new program records for goals and points in a season as a newcomer.
Lowry continued to get stronger and improve her skills with her club team, after notching 24 goals and 64 points last season, according to Purnell Swett head coach Alaric Strickland.
Junior Maddison Oxendine, who finished second on the team with 12 goals last season, was also impressive with her club team and will continue to be a key part of the Lady Rams’ attack.
“Jada Jacobs and Ashley Locklear have come back stronger,” Strickland said. “They’re the anchors of our defense.”
The Lady Rams had an early exit from the state playoffs last season after losing 6-1 to J.H. Rose in the first round. Strickland said that experience, along with breaking the 10-win plateau for the first time in program history, motivated his players to set their goals higher this year.
“They worked hard in the offseason, and it’s showing,” Strickland said.
Lumberton looks to fill voids
Several vacant roles are starting to be filled after the Lumberton girls soccer team graduated three all-region players and its starting goalkeeper from last season.
The departures of Madison Sirmans, Brooke Taylor and Harley Wilkerson means the Lady Pirates have to find a new set of players to anchor its attack.
Goalkeeper Hannah Monteiro also graduated, leaving senior Emma Barnes to take over between the posts.
“We’ve been hit hard with big graduation losses,” coach Kenny Simmons said.
Christina Dickerson, Brittany Ward and Sydney Wober are taking on big roles this season.
“We’re going to rely on those three to carry us offensively,” Simmons said.
Courtlyn McLellan, Sallee Jones, Logan Cameron and Morgan Miller are expected to be defensive catalysts for the Lady Pirates.
Simmons said the team isn’t as talented as it has been in the past, but taking every game seriously will help the team be successful.
“The big thing will be playing with a high level of intensity,” Simmons said. “The conference is going to be really good.”
Experience is key for Lady Red Devils
Red Springs girls soccer head coach Travis Wilson has 11 seniors on his roster, and each one will be expected to step up to fill the void left by the departure of last season’s Three Rivers Conference Player of the Year, Viridiana Tapia.
“Last year we had one player (Tapia) we depended on to do anything,” Wilson said.
After losing Tapia to graduation, Red Springs is changing its strategy to be more dynamic and inclusive.
“It has to be more of a team attack,” Wilson said.
The team’s experience will help players like Wendy Molina, a midfielder who is moving into an attacking role, step in and make an immediate impact for the Lady Red Devils.
Madison Locklear and Dymond Carthen took last season off to work on their skills and are expected to have significant roles as well.
Wilson said the team still has some rough ends to address, but the Lady Red Devils should continue to improve this year.
“We’ve had the three best seasons in program history (the past three years),” Wilson said. “I think people are sleeping on us because we lost the conference player of the year.”
St. Pauls working through building process
One of the challenges facing the St. Pauls girls soccer team can be addressed with long-term initiatives, according to head coach Brent Martin.
“A lot of these girls have never played competitive soccer,” Martin said. “It’s constantly a building process,”
To help mitigate that issue, Martin is working to generate interest in middle school soccer leagues in Robeson County, a resource that the area currently lacks.
In the meantime, Martin is dedicated to helping the less experienced Lady Bulldogs learn the ropes of the game.
It is a tumultuous process at times, but Martin believes his team can compete for third place in the conference if they continue to improve.
Martin expects senior Madai Hernandez’s attitude to help her develop as a leader for the team.
“It’s not so much her technique, but her sheer determination,” Martin said.
Reach Brandon Tester at 910-816-1989