(Photo Courtesy of High Point Athletics)
When Jon Torpey left his position as associate head coach at Dartmouth to take on the challenge that awaited him at High Point, he was regarded as one of the best young coaches in the game. He had proven himself as an assistant, becoming the youngest associate head coach in DI when he was elevated to the title in 2006 at Denver. And upon his arrival at High Point, he once again began one of the youngest to hold a head coaching job in college lacrosse.
Eight seasons into his tenure at High Point, it is pretty safe to say that Jon Torpey has shown his ability to build a program, nonetheless a successful one, from scratch. From taking the Panthers to the NCAA Tournament in just their third season as a program to the constant fear that seeing High Point on the schedule puts into the eyes of ACC opponents, as the Panthers have upset Virginia twice (2016,2019) and Duke once (2019), and the only having two losing seasons in seven fulls seasons.
On a macro level, it looks like Torpey has and continues to do on heck of a job building High Point into not only a SoCon power, but a highly-respected mid-major. But when you start to dig deeper, you can really see the growth, especially over the past few full seasons, but you also see just how up and down things have been at times on both ends of the field.
In their seven full seasons, the Panthers have ranked 4th (2019), 19th (2018), 53rd (2017), 25th (2016), 21st (2015), 36th (2014), and 56th (2013) in scoring offense. During the shortened 2020 season, where they played eight games, they ranked 36th. While the Panthers have had some seasons where their offense has dipped, steady improvement over two or three seasons and occasional sizable been a constant theme since the program’s inception.
Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the field, things have been a little more consistent and included less major leaps. The Panthers have ranked 33rd (2019), 57th (2018), 48th (2017), 45th (2016), 24th (2015), 22nd (2014), 61st (2013) in scoring defense during their seven full seasons. They were tied for 71st when the 2020 season was cancelled.
One of the only things that has stayed pretty consistent throughout the program’s eight seasons of play is their team shooting percentage. Outside of their first year, it hasn’t ventured below .275 and has remained right around the .300 mark.
Last season, the Panthers seemed to regress a bit after a stellar 13-win 2019 campaign. Through eight games, they were sitting at 2-6 and all their losses had come by an average of 7.2 goals per game. But if this trend of dropping and rising every two to three seasons isn’t just mere coincidence, things could be going up for the Panthers in 2021.
Offensively, it’s hard not to get excited about what could be on the horizon for the Panthers in 2021. They return their entire attack unit, which accounted for 39% of their offensive production last season. A senior, Asher Nolting (11G/22A) looks to be the leader of the offense once again. He has been their go to guy since he stepped foot on campus as a freshman and can make some electric plays each time he steps on the field. Tyler Hendricks (14G/2A) and Devon Buckshot (12G/2A) each found their way into the starting lineup at different points last season as a freshman and redshirt freshman. The two showed some serious flashes and could be complete game changers for this offense in the years to come.
At midfield, Dalton Sulver (10G/2A), who is the Panthers’ best shooter at the position, will be back for an extra season. Junior Hunter Vines (6G/3A) and senior Koby Russell (5G/4A) will both be back and should take on greater roles after starting in the majority of games last season. The Panthers bring back a host of other role players at the midfield spot that will be in the rotation and certainly make some headway.
However, it’s pretty safe to assume that the attack will do most of the heavy lifting again in 2021, and that the ball will be in Nolting’s stick almost every possession. For High Point’s sake, hopefully he can decrease his turnover rate again after being on track to do so during the shortened 2020 season.
Defensively, the Panthers need drastic improvement, and it starts with Parker Green in cage. The Memphis, Tenn., native stepped in between the pipes as a freshman starter last season and fill the hole left by the graduation of Tim Troutner Jr. That is not easy at all. He made 88 saves and posted a save percentage of .456. He should only get better.
But as usual, most goalies can only be as good as the guys in front of him. And if a defense continuously leaves their goaltender out to dry, not many good things usually happen. Sequences like that certainly took place on the back end for High Point last season.
Senior Clayton Krol (15GB/11CT) is the Panthers’ top returning pole. Senior PJ Peters could step into a full time starting role at close this season after putting together a solid 2020 campaign. And at the defensive midfield spot, Trey Smith looks to lead that unit again in 2021.
At the faceoff dot, they will have Davis Sampere back for a fifth season as well as sophomore Collin Hoben. Sampere served as their primary guy last season, going 56-for-116 (48%), while Hoben served as the backup and went 48-for-86 (54%). If the Panthers’ defense can’t put it together in 2021 and they churn out another low performing season, the success the Panthers can have at the faceoff dot will be ever crucial.
And if they are able to put it together and that offense starts flowing like we’ve seen it do before, it could be another exciting, and possibly historic, season for High Point.