In recent times, the Big South has produced a program that has been on the rise in the past two seasons, as Coastal Carolina has evolved into a 20-win team and started to draw attention from some top-rated recruits.
The rest of the conference is no slouch, as Winthrop proved last year by making the tournament via the conference title game, but they are still trying to catch down the Chanticleers, who have some big names to replace this season.
Brief Conference Bio:
2012 Regular Season Champion: Coastal Carolina
Conference Tournament Champion: Winthrop
Attacking Player of the Year: Ashton Bennett, Coastal Carolina
Freshman of the Year: Kody Palmer, High Point
Defensive Player of the Year: Kjartan Sigurdsson, Coastal Carolina
Coach of the Year: Shaun Docking, Coastal Carolina
Teams (2012 overall/conference record)
The loss of Mitchell Cardenas and his 14 assists is a huge blow to Campbell’s offensive hopes after a solid 2012. Midfielder Ricki Gaez looks like a capable replacement, while experienced goalkeeper Ethan Hall offers the team a solid foundation at the back, if he can hold on to the starting role this season.
Coastal Carolina (20-3-2/10-0-0)
After an outstanding season for the Chanticleers, ending with a loss against Maryland in the NCAA Tournament, Coastal has some gaps to fill, but on paper is the favorite once again in the Big South. Ashton Bennett’s goals are gone (he bagged 39 goals in the last two seasons) and Kjartan Sigurdsson elected to turn pro, signing with a second division Finnish team.
The team is well equipped to cope with those departures, however, as midfielder Pedro Ribeiro brings back his midfield creativity, Justin Portillo offers scoring in bunches, and the defense will be built around junior Uchenna Uzo.
Finding the back of the net proved to be troubling last season, as Gardner-Webb managed only 13 goals in 20 games, getting blanked 11 times. Forwards Ali Al-Gashamy and Denzel Clarke will get the opportunity to try and reverse that trend, while co-captain Marius Hammersmark provides leadership and tenacity at the back.
High Point (12-5-3/5-3-2)
A lot of pieces are back this season for High Point, as leading scorer Mamadee Nyepon (13 goals, three assists) and midfielder Adam Sewell both come back after making significant contributions in 2012, earning postseason All Conference honors. The program also landed highly touted Real Salt Lake Academy midfielder Tony Murillo, who will look to replace the graduated Shawn Sloan, who led the team in assists last season. Goalkeeper Kody Palmer nabbed the conference’s Freshman of the Year award and his return provides stability at the back.
Preseason results don’t exactly bode well for Longwood, as it dropped a 6-1 loss to UNC Wilmington last week. Similar to conference counterparts Gardner-Webb, scoring was a troublesome ask for the Lancers, and it’s an issue that junior forward Jonathan Kukapa will want to remedy. This is only the program’s second season in the conference, and with 18 players returning, surely a spot in the conference tourney is one of their main goals.
Leading the charge offensively for the Flames this season will be the 2012 leading scorer Kyle Breitmeyer, and he’ll look to reach a double-digit goal total after nabbing seven. The Flames did lose some experience with Greg White and Uriah Bentick moving on, but with the return of Sam Duininck and Tim Harbison, there is still plenty of quality that can be relied on in the coming season.
While the Blue Hose managed to nab a spot in the Big South Conference tournament last year, it wasn’t pretty at the back, as the program shipped 48 goals. Goalkeeper Tyler Beadle was tremendously active, making 138 saves and still conceding 47 times. The redshirt senior is back and will hope for a better defense in front of him, while midfielder Ignacio Monchetti aims to jump starts the team’s attack and boost the team’s win total in and out of conference play.
A possible dark horse candidate to contend with Coastal Carolina for conference honors, Radford returns a significant batch of contributors from last season, including its top three point producers: midfielder Bernardo Ulmo, Chel Ho Park Kim and Jon Mayer scored 20 goals combined and added 11 assists. There are questions at the back with graduation of Ryan Taylor and transfer of center back Jannick Eckenrode, though redshirt senior Dane Wilson seems poised to claim the starting job in goal.
UNC Asheville (1-15-1/0-9-1)
With 14 goals scored and 44 conceded last season, there is ample room for improvement for the Bulldogs. Forwards Kenneth Lingerfelt and Bobby Castro are two of the prominent returners from the 2012 squad that will look to lead the turnaround. The primary goal will be notching a few wins in the Big South.
Another struggler last season, captains Daniel Kitchen and Blake McCauley lead a team with 18 freshmen and sophomores, so it remains to be seen if they have the makeup to up their win total in conference play and find a way into the conference tournament. Kitchen’s presence in goal is especially critical considering the team conceded 46 goals last season.
Thanks to excellent play from midfielder/forward Alex Isern, Winthrop enjoyed a dream season, upending Radford in the conference tournament final to book a spot in the NCAA Tournament, where it managed to advance on penalty kicks against SMU. Isern may have graduated, but offensive support returns in the form of Achille Obougou and Mason Lavallet, who are both seniors. At the back, the team did lose all three goalkeepers who saw minutes in 2012, leaving the job up for grabs between the five on the roster: junior Guilherme Avelar, sophomore Fabian Broich, freshmen Graham Matalik, Hector Fernandez and Kevin Duncan.