Richmond Hill High School senior Bear Echols never missed a trip to the state soccer tournament during his four years with the Wildcats tournament
Echols will take that winning tradition and playoff experience out of state with him in August, when the first-team 2014 Region 3-AAAAA selection heads off to Mars Hill (N.C.) University, a NCAA Division II school competing in the South Atlantic Conference.
Why Mars Hill?
“My club coach, Dan Waymont, played at Mars Hill and he always talked about how much he enjoyed the experience there,” said Echols, who will attend the school on both athletic and academic scholarships. “When I visited the campus I kind of had that in mind as I was looking at everything from facilities to watching the team play and talking to the coaches there. It was just a great fit for me.”
A good student, Echols isn’t quite certain what he’ll study.
“I haven’t really decided yet, but I’ve thought about going into education and maybe teach in high school,” he said.
In the meantime, Echols credits everyone from teammates to family—– his folks Chandler Echols and Paula Reising — to coaches such as Waymont, RHHS head coach Robbie Flanders and assistant Jonathan Lea for the part they played in his earning the ride to MHU.
“My parents and coaches have been really influential, but my teammates Trey (Collins), Joel (Heiser) and Evan (Scholfield) have probably been the most influential. They’ve always wanted me to aspire to be better, and it’s always been a competition between the four of us.”
And Echols said that’s what he’ll miss most about RHHS, being part of the team.
“Not just the seniors, but younger guys like Levi Cole and James Rymer and Warren Collins, those guys were also really good friends. I’m going to miss that whole group of friends that play soccer,” Echols said.
Flanders said he’s happy to see Echols get the chance to keep playing.
“I’m proud and happy for him to be playing at the next level by signing to play at Mars Hill,” Flander said. “It’s always good to see one of your players’ dream come true and for him to be taking that next step. It’s well deserved and a result of something he’s been preparing for since he started playing soccer.”
Echols will report in August to join a program that finished 7-10 and advanced to the SAC semifinals in 2013. The Lions open the 2014 season Aug. 25 against Lander.
“I’m excited about it,” Echols said. “It’s a great opportunity.”