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UNC Greensboro's Casey Penland impresses Charlotte Independence
SoCon player of year makes transition to Jacks
Published Friday, January 24, 2020 5:00 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

Former UNC Greensboro standout Casey Penland, the Southern Conference player of the year as a senior, starts his professional career with the Charlotte Independence.

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Pursuing soccer instead of basketball changed Casey Penland’s life.

The center back played both sports until his sophomore year of high school when he joined the NC Fusion Academy, coached by now-Charlotte MLS executive Marc Nicholls. Soccer led Penland to the Division I collegiate level at UNC Greensboro and now the professional ranks with the Charlotte Independence in the USL Championship.

“Basketball was probably my main sport until my sophomore year of high school,” Penland said. “My junior year, I started getting a lot of interest [for soccer], and I thought I can either play sports, or I can concentrate on one. I dropped basketball, something I’ve been playing my whole life, to play soccer.”

Significant changes took place for Penland during his senior year in high school as well as his senior year in college. The former saw him transition from an attacking player to a center back. The latter involved a complete overhaul of how he took care of his body.

As a senior in high school at High Point Christian Academy, he knew the Spartans were looking for a center back, and he turned himself into one.

“I hadn’t had much success playing forward, but I knew I was athletic enough to possibly play center back,” Penland said. “I made that transition, and from that point on I fell in love with it, and I found out I was lot better at that position than I was as an attacking player. I worked very hard to get myself to where I needed to be, because I was behind [other center backs]. I was already pretty old, and I had to work harder to become familiar with the position.”

When Chris Rich took over as head coach of the Spartans in July, one of the first things he pointed out Penland was improving his diet. Penland ate like college kids do—lots of fast food. His senior season required not only changing the way he ate, but taking care of his body. He would go into practice an hour or so early, foam roll and getting treatment in the athletic training room.

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“A funny thing that coach got onto me about was the way I ate,” Penland said. “I focused more on protein—stuff that would help me on the field. At first it’s hard, because you don’t really see the effects of it, but as the season went on I really saw the effects of it, and how the things I ate were taking a toll on my body. On the field, I trained a lot more, but the biggest aspect was taking care of my body off the field.”

Said Rich: “He always said he wanted to be a pro, but the biggest thing that he had to address was what I call ‘marginal games,’ that’s the way you train, the way you eat, the way you sleep. It was one of the first meals we had together, and on his plate wasn’t the best items in the world. I had a conversation with him, ‘if you want to be a pro, not only do I need you to set the tone for the rest of the team, but this is what you need to do.’ That kid addressed it right away.”

Rich also asked Penland to step up as a captain. He would lead the Spartans to a 9-9-1, 5-1 Southern Conference record, earn United Soccer Coaches All-South Region selection, conference player of the year, and first team All-SoCon. He scored a career-high five goals as a senior and finished with 12 career goals—a program record among defenders.

“I came here and implemented a style of play, building out of the back, which required the center backs to be in possession, make good decisions, and really start the attack for us,” said Rich. “He was the main guy. Whether we were playing a back three or a back four, he made a huge impact offensively allowing us to build, and play to our personal style of play. Defensively, he’s an animal—he has all the physical qualities in the world [at 6 feet tall].”

Penland’s style of play fits what Independence head coach and general manager Mike Jeffries wants to do with the Jacks. Penland and fellow rookie, midfielder Oscar Ramsay, both impressed at Charlotte’s annual invitation-only combine in December. Now it’s a matter of adjusting to the next level.

“Like a lot of rookies, it’s a matter of getting into the environment, and getting up to the speed of play,” Jeffries said. “He is clean technically. He’s an athletic defender, has good recovery pace, has the ability to read plays well, and now it’s just doing it in an environment that’s a little bit faster.”

Said Rich: “He’s ready.”

Penland will graduate in May from Greensboro with a degree in business marketing. His remaining 15 credits will be completed through five online classes during the spring.

Penland is not only a player, but a fan. His favorite club is Manchester United.

“I am someone who follows soccer,” Penland said. “I watch it all the time. Premier League is probably my favorite league—keeping up with them on a daily basis.”


Can I get a copy of this article?
Posted on January 26, 2020
How do I get a few copies of Fridays paper?Im intrested in the story on the soccer player from UNCG.
Posted on January 26, 2020

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