|School – High Point
|Conference – Big South
|Coach – Dustin Fonder (8th Season)
Background – With an 8-8-3 record in 2013, coach Dustin Fonder had the Panthers at or above .500 for the sixth consecutive season. Despite losing 12 seniors off the 2012 team, High Point went 6-2-2 in Big South play but suffered an upset loss to Liberty in the first round of the conference tournament. After winning the Big South regular season title and reaching the conference final in 2010, the Panthers advanced to back-to-back conference semifinals before falling short of that mark last year. The season got off to a rocky start with consecutive losses to Old Dominion, UAB and South Carolina by a combined 13-5 margin. But High Point bounced back quickly with two of its best results of the season: a 3-0 road win over nationally ranked UNC-Greensboro and a 2-0 victory over an NCAA tournament-bound Navy squad. Things leveled off after that, although the team did win its final four games of the regular season prior to the tournament loss to Liberty. Defense was the main culprit in 2013, as High Point allowed 35 goals in 19 games. The unit did find its footing in the second half of the season, however, conceding 11 goals over the final 11 games. Midfielder Adam Sewell and forward Mamadee Nyepon each garnered NSCAA All-South Atlantic third-team honors in addition to All-Big South first-team nods. Defender Austin Yearwood and goalkeeper Kody Palmer were picked to the All-Big South second team, while defender Sonny Mukungu nabbed a spot on the third team. Midfielder Pat Shelton was selected to the Big South All-Freshman team.
Offense – Forward Mamadee Nyepon returns for his senior season with 29 goals and 10 assists to his name in 60 career games with the Panthers. He popped in 11 goals in 2013 to lead the team, and he needs just five more to become High Point’s all-time leading goal scorer. Fellow starting forward Ben Burdon is back for his junior season after scoring twice and adding six assists in 2013, while reserve forward Erien Campbell also returns after recording five goals a year ago. Indiana transfer Sean Cowdrey and true freshman Avery Ryan should provide goal-scoring punch as newcomers. Midfielder Adam Sewell (3g, 3a) is the only player High Point lost to graduation off last year’s squad, and the absence of his All-Big South first-team talent will be felt. But sophomore Pat Shelton (6g, 1a), sophomore Renato Punyed (2g, 1a) and junior Cameron Foster (1a) each return after starting at least 10 games in the midfield a season ago. The Panthers are eagerly awaiting the debut of redshirt freshman Tony Murillo as well. Rated the No. 68 recruit in the Class of 2013 by the College Soccer News, the former Real Salt Lake Academy player and U.S. U-18 National Team member missed all of 2013 with a knee injury. True freshman Irvin Ramirez is another fresh face who could become a prominent player in the midfield.
Defense – After allowing 35 goals in 19 games last season, tightening up at the back will be key for the Panthers this fall. Inconsistency was the real downfall in 2013, as the team gave up four or more goals on four occasions. In the remaining 15 games, High Point allowed zero or one goal 11 times. The Panthers boasted a pair of All-Conference defenders in Austin Yearwood (second team) and Sonny Mukungu (honorable mention) plus Kody Palmer (second team) in net. Yearwood led the team in assists with eight, and he should continue to be a force at left back as a junior this fall. Senior Mukungu (1g) and junior Adam Storm (1g, 1a) each return as starters as well. Junior Kevin Fallet hopes to return early in the season after tearing his Achilles in the spring. Chris Ramsell and Jonathan Ware should contend for minutes on the back line as sophomores. Palmer nabbed College Soccer News Freshman All-American honors in 2012 after posting nine shutouts, and he added four more to that tally last fall.
Newcomers – Three and A Half Star Recruiting Class
Thiago Acheampong – Midfielder – Sokoban, Ghana
Sean Cowdrey – Forward – Silver Spring, Md. – Transfer from Indiana where he redshirted in 2013. Totaled 44 goals and 25 assists during an All-American high school career at DeMatha Catholic.
Michael Cusack – Midfielder – Houston, Texas – Played in 27 games over the past two seasons for the Houston Dynamo Academy club team in the Development Academy. Earned All-State honors as a freshman at St. Thomas’ Episcopal.
Ebe Kudolo – Midfielder – Accra, Ghana
David Price – Goalkeeper – Needham, Mass. – Made 34 starts over the past two seasons for the FC Bolts Celtic club team in the Development Academy.
Irvin Ramirez – Midfielder – Houston, Texas – Scored 13 goals over the past two seasons for the Houston Dynamo Academy club team in the Development Academy.
Poli Rodriguez – Defender – Kay, Texas – Played club soccer with the Texas Rush Academy and the Houston Dynamo Academy team.
Avery Ryan – Forward – Florence, S.C. – Scored 12 goals in 33 games last year for the South Carolina United Battery Academy club team in the Development Academy.
Cameron Zell – Goalkeeper – Ringoes, N.J. – Played club soccer with Players Development Academy in the Development Academy. Totaled 19 shutouts in 26 games in an All-State senior season at Hunterdon Central High.
Prognosis for 2014 – The ingredients are there for High Point to have a bounce-back year in 2014. The Panthers were a young team in 2013, and they showed it in the early going before settling down late in the year. With only one key player lost from that squad, the team should hit the ground running this fall. Factor in the return to full health of highly touted Class of 2013 recruit Tony Murillo to an offensive attack already featuring Mamadee Nyepon, and the attack could be lethal. The key will undoubtedly be how the defense performs after conceding nearly two goals a game last season. But there’s far more talent in the unit than the 2013 stats indicate. The non-conference schedule isn’t overwhelming – especially in the early going – which should give the team an opportunity to get on a roll right off the bat. If everything comes together, High Point should contend for the first Big South tournament title in program history.