James River girls soccer pushes forward to honor late coach

Updated: May. 6, 2021 at 11:02 PM EDT
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MIDLOTHIAN, Va. (WWBT) - To say the last week and a half was difficult for the James River girl’s soccer team would be an understatement.

Rapids’ head coach Ian Stowe passed away suddenly and unexpectedly last Monday, sending shock and sadness through the James River and local soccer communities. He was 32 years old.

“It doesn’t feel real, still doesn’t feel real,” said James River senior midfielder Maddie Runyon.

“It was hard to process,” added JV head coach Kieley Thomas. Thomas is currently acting as the varsity head coach as well.

“I had no words,” Rapids center forward Hannah Calliot said. “I had no crying left because it was so surreal and I didn’t even believe that he was gone.”

Stowe led the James River program for seven years. He played his high school soccer at Clover Hill and went on to compete collegiately at William & Mary. His biggest battle, however, was overcoming and defeating brain cancer in 2012. You could find him coaching at James River or club soccer for FC Richmond. He may have been young, but he made a big impression on the Rapids’ program, giving his players and fellow staff members plenty of memories.

“They were just sharing stories,” Thomas said. “There are things that I never knew about him, but it didn’t surprise me because he was just such a great human being.”

Calliott recalled a nervous moment when she was about to attempt a penalty kick with a berth in the state semifinals on the line.

“Ian looked at me and he said ‘Hannah, you are going to make that P-K and we are going to go to states,’” the senior recalled, adding that she would end up indeed converting on the penalty kick. “I literally will never forget that because that was the best thing he’s ever said to me.”

“I vividly remember him coming up to me and saying ‘Maddie, you’re on this team for a reason. Be comfortable, play how you play and you’re going to do fine,” Runyon said of her first day at varsity practice.

The soccer field is where all of these players come together and it’s also the place where Stowe came into their lives at one point or another. Now they’ve been getting through the hard times by leaning on each other. Their coach is still present, with signs hanging in the stadium and #StoweStrong on the backs of shirts.

“We have definitely had moments where we’ve had to have each other’s backs, lift each other up, but the girls have been absolutely amazing,” Thomas pointed out.

“All I look forward to is being with them,” said Calliott of being out at practice. “Knowing that we’re all coping through the same thing and that we all loved Ian so much, it helps even more.”

Now the Rapids are pressing on with their season, hoping to honor their coach with wins and championships, but more importantly, with how they conduct themselves and play the game.

“We’re doing this for Ian,” Thomas said. “But I also want to make sure they’re doing it for themselves. It’s their team. Ian wanted it to be their team.”

“We all know this season is for him and that gives us so much motivation and confidence going into the next month or two,” added Calliott.

“I think we all know it will never be the same as it was coming onto this field,” noted Runyon. “But I think we all have the same mindset that we want to do everything for Ian- win for Ian, be a team for Ian and push as far as we can into the tournament for Ian.”

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