LAURINBURG — St. Andrews soccer has improved each year under the tutelage of head coach Rick Parlow. Going into his third season at the helm, he expects the team to take another leap forward and compete for a Appalachian Athletic Conference championship.
Parlow, who previously served stints as an assistant coach at Mt. Olive and High Point before joining the Knights’ coaching staff, brought on a new assistant this year to help with the growth of the program. Britney Bennett, who was previously an all-region goalkeeper for The University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s women’s soccer team but saw her career end with an ACL tear, is now the new assistant coach for the Knights. This will be her first season with the school.
Both coaches share a sense of optimism coming into the season, as the the program has improved their win-loss record since Parlow was brought aboard.
“The year before I got here we were 2-15, and then 5-9-3, and then 7-11 last year,” Parlow said. “We’re going to have a phenomenal season this year — we’re looking at 10-plus wins as our goal, and we’re looking to advance deeper in our conference tournament this year and hopefully make the national tournament.”
Since Parlow joined the program, he has had to recruit extensively to fill the roster, which has left his previous teams young and inexperienced. Three seniors graduated from last year’s team, and he expects the rising juniors and seniors this year to share leadership roles as they’ve become accustomed to Parlow’s system the last few seasons.
“We’ve had 8-10 freshman the last two years…but this year we’re back on a even recruiting system where we’re not having to go out to get 10, 11, or 12 kids each year,” Parlow said. “I’m looking for the kids that started here three years ago as freshmen and started helping rebuild the program to reap the benefits of their hard work over the last three years.”
Goalie Jessica Griffith is considered by the staff as one of their best players, and as the senior captain of the team, she will take on a lot of those leadership responsibilities.
“We’re expecting a big, big year out of Jessica,” Parlow said. “We just think she’s going to have a great season this year.”
Parlow said the AAC will be a tough conference, comparing it to the SEC, where college football teams compete for every advantage. He cites Reinhardt, last season’s AAC champions, Montreat, and Tennessee Wesleyan as those that could pose the most problems for St. Andrews, but said he has a strategy in mind.
“Score more goals than they do — if we do that I guarantee you we win the game,” Parlow said, laughing. “We’re just going to have to keep playing our game, every year we’ve played them it’s been more and more competitive.”
The Knights began training for the upcoming season back in May, and Friday was considered the last day of the summer training program. Much of the offseason focus was work on individual fitness. Parlow said he will give his players the weekend off, and then they will report for preseason practice beginning Monday.
St. Andrews has a unique schedule this season, as their slate is loaded with road games early on, followed by mostly home games to end the season. Seven of their first nine games are on the road, and six of their final eight games are at home. Parlow and Bennett said they will take a slightly different approach to their training regimen to prepare for a schedule that is challenging at first, but is beneficial to the players once the season hits the home stretch.
“During the preseason we’re really going to work on our fitness and game management,” Parlow said. “Just making sure they’re taking care of themselves and getting proper sleep and staying healthy.”
Parlow said he was attracted to the job three years ago because he said the program had a lot of potential and was “close to blowing up.” He said he feels the school is on the right path to future success both in the classroom and on the pitch, and attributes that to the players he’s brought in over the last few years and the positive presence they have been for the university.
“The kids want to be successful, they are athletes that do well on the field and in the classroom,” Parlow said. “We should be competing for finals in the next two years — I’ve had coaches come up to me and say, ‘they’re going to be tough to beat’ … We’ve really got a great group of girls.”
St. Andrews will open the new season at home against Barton College on Aug. 30.
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.