High Point University - Four Star Recruiting Class - The Panthers, pegged by some to be a sleeper team last year, began the 2012 season with a 9-0-0 mark in the month of September and entered the national rankings for the first time in the history of the program. However, reality came to town when the Panthers were 3-5-3 for the remainder of the season to finish with a 12-5-3 overall record that included a 5-3-2 mark in Big South Conference action which was good for the number five seed in the conference tournament.
Despite the decline in the second half of the season, the twelve wins by HPU in 2012 was the second-most victories in a single season (they had sixteen wins in 2010) since the Panthers began Division I play in 1999. This is a program that is beginning to make its presence known.
Dustin Fonder will enter the 2013 season without the services of a very productive twelve member senior class that included five players who were four year starters. The departed senior starters include midfielders Shawn Sloan (6g, 1a), Shane Malcolm (6g, 6a) and Ryan Bennett (1g, 4a) and center backs Fejiro Okiomah (2g, 0a) and Todd Ray (0g, 3a). Sloan and Okiomah were All-Big South First Team selections while Malcolm was an All-Big South Second Team member. Losing so many key contributors puts pressure on some younger less experienced players to help pick up the slack sooner rather than later.
Fonder will rely on a core group of five returning starters and a thirteen member recruiting class that consists of four transfers and nine true freshmen to keep the Panthers in the hunt for the Big South Conference title in 2013. No matter how you spin it, High Point has some rebuilding to accomplish in 2013.
The recruiting class features redshirt junior defender Sonny Mukungu from North Carolina State and freshmen midfielder Antonio Murillo and defender Dolu Oyewole who are ranked by College Soccer News as the number sixty-eight and seven-two recruits respectively in the class of 2013. Fonder stated, "Once again we have set the bar high with our recruiting class as this is one of the most talented classes that we have brought to High Point." He added, "A lot of young players will get playing time next season and will have to mature quickly."
High Point has the potential to be very dangerous up-top. Junior Mamadee Nyepon (13g, 3a,) a 2012 All-Big South First Team selection, had a breakout season in 2012 to lead the Panthers in scoring. Nyepon's quickness, size, and touch on the ball combine to make him a tough matchup for any defender. You can put him on the short list of big time goal scorers heading into the 2013 season as reflected in the fact that he produced six game winning goals last year. Sophomore Ben Burdon (3g, 1a) who played in twenty games last year is a crafty goal scorer who should flourish as a result of the opportunity to play an expanded role in 2013. Look for him to step up into a go-to role. Freshman forward Matt Gweh, a 2011 NSCAA High School All-American and the 2011 and Minnesota Gatorade Player of the Year, is among the newcomers with the potential to make an immediate positive contribution.
Experience and depth in the midfield could be a concern in 2013. However, the one thing not to be concerned about is the play of senior Adam Sewell (3g, 1a). A 2012 All-Big South Second Team selection, Sewell is the lone returning starter in the midfield. He has been a starter and impact player since his freshman season in 2010 when he was named the Big South Freshman of the Year and to the College Soccer News All-Freshman team. Sewell will figure prominently in the degree of success that the Panthers enjoy in 2013 and is among the seniors who must set the pace for the newcomers.
Highly regarded freshman Antonio Murrillo has the ability to add an additional dimension to the HPU offense. Fonder stated, "He (Murrillo) is one of the best attacking midfielders in the country and we think he can be special in our league." Sophomore midfielder Duvan Vasquez Ortiz who transfers in from Universidad Santo Tomas in Bogata, Columbia is among other members of the recruiting class with the potential to contribute immediately.
Sophomores Austin Yearwood (0g, 2a) and Erien Campbell (1g, 2a) look to be in line for a starting role in the backline. Yearwood started twenty contests last year and Campbell played in seventeen with ten starts. Both should hit the ground running in 2013. Transfer Sonny Mukungu from North Carolina State should help fill the void that exists at center back. Sophomore Kevin Fallet who set out last year is expected to see significant time in the backline in 2013.
The return of redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Kody Palmer who was the 2012 Big South Freshman of the Year is a big plus. Palmer started every match last year and posted a 0.92 goals against average while recording nine shutouts which tied the HPU Division I single season record.
High Point will be a work in progress in 2013 as this bunch looks to establish its identity. Consistency was a problem last year and could continue to be in 2013 with so many young players on board. This team has the talent to win some big games but the question is whether or not they can do it on a consistent basis.
Fonder will have his work cut out for him as he goes about the task of blending the newcomers in with the veterans so that the Panthers jell as a team and are playing with confidence by the time they begin Big South play in the later part of September.
High Point will open the 2013 season with games on the road against Old Dominion, UAB, South Carolina, and UNC Greensboro. Those contests should give Fonder a pretty good idea of the strengths and weaknesses of his team. When it is all said and done the success of the 2013 team may very well depend in large part on the newcomers ability to get up to speed quickly.
Matt Gweh - Forward - Apple Valley, Minnesota - Eastview HIgh School - NSCAA 2011 High School All-America selection. 2011 Gatorade State Player of the Year. Played with Minnesota Thunder Academy.
Zane Laughery - Forward - Raleigh, North Carolina - Ravenscroft School - First-team All-Conference. Played club soccer with CASL Elite. Trained with Chelsea Academy in England.
Ryan Massey - Goalkeeper - Bethesda, Maryland - Gonzaga College High School - All-Met Honorable mention. Two-time WCAC Second-Team All-Conference. Played club soccer with AC Bethesda.
Tony Murillo - Midfielder - Las Vegas, Nevada - Vista Grande High School - Played for Real Salt Lake Soccer Academy. Member U.S. U-18 National Team. Rated #68 recruit in class of 2013 by CSN.
Duvan Vasquez Ortiz - Midfielder - Bogota,Columbia - Universidad Santo Tomas - Sophomore transfer from Universidad Santo Tomas.
Dolu Oyewole - Defender - Waldorf, Maryland - North Point High School - Played for DC United Academy. Rated #72 recruit in the class of 2013 by CSN.
Chris Ramsell - Midfielder - Scottsdale, Arizona - Pinnacle High School - Plays club soccer with Valpo United.
Brandon Sloan - Midfielder - Oakland, Michigan - Adams High School - Played for the Vardar Academy. All-Region. All-District. Played club soccer with Chicago Magic prior to joining Varder in 2010.
Yosef Teffera - Forward - Durham, North Carolina - Jordan High School - First Team All-Conference. Plays club with Triangle United.
Jonathan Ware - Defender - Upper Marlboro, Maryland - DeMatha High School - Named Gazette All-County. Plays club with AC Bethesda.
Dom de Aragao - Midfielder - Spring, Texas - Klein High School - Junior transfer from Mount St. Mary's where he appeared in sixteen games in 2012. Played club with the Texas Rush Soccer Club.
Joshua de Aragao - Midfielder - Spring, Texas - Klein High School - Junior transfer from Mount St. Mary's. where he appeared in sixteen games in 2012. Played club with Texas Rush Soccer.
Sonny Mukungu - Defender - Durham, North Carolina - Charles E. Jordan High School - Junior transfer from North Carolina State. ACC All-Freshman Team. CSN All-Freshman selection.