Early in November, the Richmond High School girls soccer team won its fifth state championship in the last eight seasons. That makes for a lot of hardware cramming for space at the front of the school’s trophy case, but the 2017 Gold Ball might shine brightest.

Instead of scoring goals at record rates or bludgeoning teams with wins by double-digit goals day in and day out during the march to the championship, these Bobcats were a different breed. They embraced a defensive posture, took pride not in scoring but in keeping teams from doing so, and stonewalled their way to the Class D title.

For his efforts, Richmond head coach Troy Kendrick is the Kennebec Journal Coach of the Year. This marks the third time Kendrick — a two-time New England coach of the year — has earned the honor.

“I’m going to admit that, yes, in all honesty, I don’t know that we had really high expectations,” Kendrick said. “Anyone that was really familiar with us, the team and the players included, we didn’t have super-high expectations. You’re always going to go in and work hard, put the time in and hope for the best. But realistically, even now, my daughter and the other kids on the team, we just look at each other and smile about it.

“Let’s face it, it was just a surprise.”

Perhaps, but after a midseason scoreless draw against Class C foe Old Orchard Beach at home, Kendrick said his Bobcats might have something to serve as a foundation for moving forward.

“We were searching early in the season,” Kendrick said. “We were searching to find that combination of kids and the right system of play. It took a while. We experimented with different people in different places. At that point, after the Old Orchard game, the kids went, ‘Huh, we’re pretty good.’ We put 80 minutes together, two good halves, and that was a big confidence builder.”

Change is never easy, particularly for a Class D side with only 23 players in the entire program. When the coach wants to change his team’s philosophy or formation, he can’t just pluck players with a different skill set and plug them into the lineup.

That coach needs to coach the players he does have to change the way they play.

“I think they were pretty good about being honest and self-evaluating,” Kendrick said, deflecting some of the credit to his players. “We talked during the summer that the goals would come hard — it’s just the way we were comprised. We obviously talked about it, that we’ve got to be solid in the back. We’re not going to score a lot of goals, thus we can’t give up a lot of goals.

“They really embraced it.”

And after that Old Orchard contest, it became even easier. By the time Richmond took a 2-0 halftime lead against juggernaut Ashland — which hadn’t been shut out in a first half all season to that point — in the state final, the Bobcats were prepared to defend that lead to the bitter end.

“It’s everyone defending, not just (goalkeeper Sydney Tilton) or the defense,” Kendrick said. “It’s midfielders coming back, it’s possessing the ball. In the end, the kids did come to understand that this was the style we were going to play. And once we had some success at it, they were eager to do it well.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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