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New sheriff on pitch

Jan. 28—The Lady Raiders will be adding a new coach for their soccer team this upcoming season, with familiar face Jay Faircloth taking the helm.

"I'm super nervous, but super excited at the same time," he said.

Faircloth received the news before the Christmas break that he was taking over, giving him plenty of time to meet and greet the Lady Raiders he will lead into the '24 season. He spoke on his time at Lakewood, the struggle to piece together a small team while also learning the ropes of the game himself.

He spoke highly of other coaches through spirited competition; those moments are what helped mold him and he plans to impart what he learned from that into Midway. His fiery love for the game came during a time when his kids played and he started to learn the craft. He spoke highly of the tempo and the unique challenges that the sport brings, such as the lack of timeouts and small windows of opportunity to make adjustments.

"For the first 40, you're coaching. The only time the game stops is on a goal, a card or an injury and it's quick. So you're over there on the sidelines and you hope to God your kids hear you or listen to you. A lot of times in soccer you gotta shift on the fly. It's just the excitement of it. When a goal is scored or blocked, the aggression of the game, all those things rolled into one, there's just something about it. That's why it's my favorite sport."

Passion can only get you so far, however, and Faircloth is coming into this season with a blueprint in hand. The soccer program out of Midway has been fighting for a winning record for the past five years, always teetering just behind the goal and he is looking to help turn the program around with his brand of training and style. Last season was the Raiders' best performance in those five years, at 8-11-1, and they posted a third place finish behind East Bladen and Clinton.

He has the advantage of coaching cross country at Midway and relishes the good fortune of not going into the program blind, knowing some of the athletes and his intense style, should aid in the transition taking the helm. He praised the players that he knows will help get the other players in lock step and buy into the Faircloth style.

"They know my coaching style, I'm loud and energetic, I'm not one to just stand by and tell them to do something. It doesn't matter what sport I'm coaching, I want to create an atmosphere where everyone feels like they'll be contributing to the team. As long as my athletes walk off that field, whether cross country or soccer, practice or a game, as long as they feel like they've done everything, their pleased with what they've done and contributed, that's what my goal is."

He continued on, speaking about how his prior service in the military will also be a part of his style, ensuring that the team will be ready physically and mentally for the long year ahead. His passion for the sport could be heard in the excitement in his voice as he spoke about the outlook of the season and got to check off a longtime, personal goal, coaching with his daughter, Kendalynn, who is taking the role of assistant coach.

Reach Anthony McConnaughey at amcconnaughey@clintonnc.com, X @SampsonSports or on the Sampson Independent Facebook page