Cape Fear women's soccer wrapped up the 2017 season earlier this month, breaking records and making history. Finishing 17-1, they are the first team in program history to finish the regular season undefeated at 15-0. They finished NJCAA Region 10 Conference Champions and Tournament Champions, and finished runner up in District L Championship. Nationally ranked all season, the Sea Devils were one of the top scoring teams in the nation, scoring 104 goals on the season and ranking #4 overall prior to the national tournament.
The Sea Devils came off a 2016 campaign that finished with the team's first ever trip to the NJCAA Division 1 National Championship in Melbourne, Florida. While it was a great step forward for the program, expectations were tempered for this season with only five returning players and 13 incoming. If the team wanted to continue its success from last season, they would have to adjust quickly to the collegiate level.
"We knew going into preseason we would have to grow up quickly with the college game," says head coach Ryan Deppa.
The key to adjusting, says Deppa, was for the team to forge their own path.
"We knew part of the process was for the 2017 team to create its own identity. They began to make the statement of who they were early in the season."
That statement began with two impressive wins in the Port City Classic, hosted by the Sea Devils. Cape Fear opened with a 9-1 victory over Stratford University, then followed it up with a 5-1 win over Oxford College of Emory University a day later.
"They simply never allowed the idea [of being too young] to be an excuse here," says Deppa. "Even early on at times when the 'youngness' showed, they kept working and kept pushing forward and found ways to speed up that process by providing a good team effort."
The team's hard work and determination led to an undefeated regular season. The team averaged 5.78 goals per game, and scored a season high 15 goals in a road win over USC Salkehatchie. They were elite defensively as well, conceding just eight goals all season, and recording 10 straight shutouts between September 23rd and October 29th.
"This run of shutouts says a great deal about how our team defends but also a great deal about our keepers and back line," says Deppa. "[Sophomore] Sierra Raynor stepped up big time for us to step back from being a dangerous players in the attack to helping to bring experience and stability to us in the back. She was very unselfish to accept this role and looking back this is when the 10 shutouts streak began." Raynor played an important role all season, and it earned her First Team All Region.
Also aiding the defense was sophomore goalkeeper Kenedy Green, who allowed just three goals all season. Green split goalkeeper duties with freshman C.J. Garvey, who led the conference in save percentage at .896. Both were instrumental in preventing opponents from scoring.
Along with Raynor and Green, other sophomores contributed as well. Janessa Annis finished tied for second in assists with 14, while Alaina Capps finished second in goals with 20. Both earned First Team All Region honors.
Those four, along with sophomore Sydney Parker, saw nothing but success in two seasons. The five sophomores finished with a record of 34-4.
"They leave after two years never losing a home game played in Wilmington," said Deppa, "and that is just a portion of all the great things they helped create while at Cape Fear. They leave quite a legacy for sure."
As strong as the sophomores were, the freshman class were instrumental in the team's success.
"They [the freshman] showed up and got after it," says Deppa. "They believe in what it really is to be a good teammate and that says a great deal about the type of player we are recruiting at Cape Fear, and also says a great deal about the stuff their former coaches taught them along the way."
Leading the way was freshman forward Carly Higgins, who set a number of individual records in her first season. Higgins broke the school records for most goals in a season (34), most points in a season (82), and most shots in a season (144). She passed former Sea Devil Jaylyn High, who previously set all three records in 2011. Higgins often dominated games, scoring multiple goals in nearly every game. It earned her the honor of Region 10 Player of the Year.
Other award winners include Madison Bolen (1st team); Melani Anderson (2nd team); and Nina Perry, Cheyenne Floyd, and Anderson O'Neal (Honorable mention). Additionally, Coach Deppa was named Region 10 Coach of the Year.
As a team, Cape Fear was ranked in the Top 25 in the NJCAA Division 1 National poll and the United Soccer Coaches Poll all season. They broke the school record for most goals in a game (15), most points in a game (40), most shots in a game (48), and shots in a season (595). All this amounted to the first undefeated regular season in school history.
"Our players made choices, many times on a daily basis to make it work in 2017," says Deppa. "To go undefeated in the regular season is not as easy as they sometimes made it look. Winning, and winning, and winning takes work, and the majority of this work was going on behind the scenes. They created some long lasting relationships with each other, they created memories, they created new standards, and they did it together."
Reflecting on the season, Deppa has nothing but praise for his team, and believes this season will inspire the team in seasons to come.
"We are very proud of the 2017 season. We had great fans who supported the girls. We had a great support system of really good selfless people who wanted to help the girls have a great experience. It is a special time at Cape Fear and due to the work that previous players put in here, and previous teams put in here, and I am confident that we will do our part and continue to put the work in and be ready for 2018."
Courtsey of Nick Denning