As Alumni Weekend 2019 was in full swing on Saturday, Sept. 21, the men of Muhlenberg soccer headed out of town to Lancaster, PA. There awaited the Franklin and Marshall Diplomats, who would be the first Centennial Conference match of the year for the Mules. At 5-0-1, morale was through the roof. Standing at 5-1 themselves, their matchup with the Diplomats was destined to be a nailbiter.
Ultimately, the game was just that. After a goal three minutes into the game by F&M, Stephen Carton ‘22, with help from Jordan Cimring ‘20, tied it up just over a minute later. In the end, after an intense play back and forth, F&M would score the game-clinching goal at the 71:20 minute mark and be the first to take down the formidable Muhlenberg squad.
Although suffering their first loss, their start to the season has been undeniably infectious. This has certainly been the case for Chris Richards ’23. For him, it has been quite the alumni weekend. The week prior to Homecoming, on Sept. 17, Richards took home his first Centennial Conference (C.C.) Player of the Week award. This honor was given to him, not only after he recorded three goals and three assists in the span of two games, but following his five-point performance against Centenary on Sept. 14, where Richards became the first player since 1987 to be involved in five goals.
Growing up not too far away in Lancaster, PA, Muhlenberg College soccer has been a tradition in his family. Being the cousin of three former Muhlenberg soccer alums, Eric ‘95, Todd ‘98 and Dave Ervin ‘00, Richards is determined to carry on the family legacy.
“It’s really cool for me, being able to carry on the family tradition attending Muhlenberg, and [following] in the footsteps of some of my biggest role models,” Richards said.
In the early stages of his Muhlenberg soccer career, Richards is certainly making his cousins and brother, former Muhlenberg football player Bobby Bushong ‘11, proud. They came to school, left their mark and now it is Richards’ turn to leave his lasting impression on the school many members of his family are proud to call their alma mater. While admiring the path that he is following, he understands the road ahead will be challenging.
“Obviously, I have some big shoes to fill, but I think that’s another reason why I was so drawn towards Muhlenberg, but I love the challenge. It gives me something to work for outside of the other goals our team has established. It’s fuel for me to be the best player I can be each day,” Richards explained.
His determinedness and willingness to succeed as another member in a line of Muhlenberg soccer stars is evident in his seamless transition from high school to the collegiate level. Although the switch was going to be a tough one, it wasn’t anything he couldn’t handle.
“I knew transitioning from high school soccer to college soccer was going to be a huge change, but I feel like I prepared as best I could,” said Richards.
Richards also had tremendous praise and appreciation for the high school coaches that enabled him to reach this point in his athletic career.
“My coaches knew I wanted to play at the highest level possible, so they would push me harder than any player on the field. In the moment, it sucked. I’m not gonna lie, they really beat me up at practices, but they knew what I was capable of doing, only trying to help me reach my goals. As I look back on it, I am so grateful to have had such amazing coaches,” Richards reminisced.
However, while he has put in the necessary work in the time prior to his rookie year, Richards is well aware of his ceiling. “The work I put in this offseason has definitely paid off thus far, but I still have a lot of progress to make if I want to be the best player I can be,” Richards made clear.
While the coaches back at Lancaster Catholic High School deserve immense credit, Coach Topping, his entire staff and the rest of the Mules have enabled Richards to begin the year as the C.C’s leading goal scoring (6), tied for the C.C. lead in points (15), tied for second among freshman in points and tied for sixth among all of Division III in points per game.
For Richards, the special dynamic the team shares amongst each other is critical for his own success and for that of the whole group. “Our team is determined to be successful and with that comes a sense of trust in each other that with every practice and game, we give it everything we have. All of us push each other to become the best players we can be and for me, that has been huge. Just having the upperclassmen care about my progress and wanting to see me succeed makes me want to work harder, not for myself, but for the team,” said Richards.
Richards now looks to his new collegiate coaches and sees just how hard they have worked and what they wish to accomplish. “Our coaches know what we are capable of doing this season, and each practice they push us a little bit harder to help us achieve our goals for the season. They don’t get enough credit for all they’ve done. They are turning this program around and helping us get back to the conference playoffs and the NCAA tournament,” Richards said.
In order to maintain this spectacular level of play, Richards understands what must be done. “I think it’s a matter of giving it 110 percent every time I step on the pitch. Our coaches emphasize how important it is to do the little things right and they are right. If I can simplify my game while still being an impact, I think it will take my game to a new level,” Richards relayed.
While he continues to dominate on the field, Richards won’t let himself get caught up in the accomplishments and will continue to live by the words of his coaches:
“Your greatest achievement isn’t this one, it’s the next one.”