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Independence Rookies Carry Momentum Into 2017

By James Thomas, 11/17/16, 3:00PM EST

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The 2016 Independence Rookie of the Year Lewis Hilton and fellow rookie teammate Austin Yearwood will return to the Charlotte Independence next season, the team announced on Thursday.

CHARLOTTE, N.C.- The 2016 Independence Rookie of the Year Lewis Hilton and fellow rookie teammate Austin Yearwood will return to the Charlotte Independence next season, the team announced on Thursday.

The club picked up the team-option in Hilton’s contract to retain him for the 2017 season. Hilton comes off a 2016 campaign where he scored three goals and assisted four times in 28 games played. The Newquay, England native explains what it meant to be the team’s Rookie of the Year.

“I always thought that it was going to be difficult being in my first year as a pro,” said Hilton. “It’s nice to get individual recognition, but it’s always about how we’re able to do as a team.”

Hilton hopes to take his game to the next level in 2017 and the Independence coaching staff thinks he’s developing into a tremendous professional.

“He’s always involved in the play and always impacts the game, which is a positive thing,” said Charlotte Independence Head Coach Mike Jeffries. “He’s got an engine that just doesn’t quit.”

Hilton was not the only Charlotte rookie that took strides this season. Austin Yearwood returns to the Independence on a new contract and hopes to continue his development.

“I feel like this past season I really developed a lot with the team given the great coaching staff, teammates, and organization as a whole,” said Yearwood. “I thought it would be in my best interest to stay and keep developing.”

The former Charlotte Soccer Academy standout graduated from High Point University in 2015 and spent the subsequent season with the Charlotte Eagles of the Premier Development League. Garnering local talent has been a goal for the Independence.

“I think part of the process for us is to be able to develop guys from within,” said Jeffries. “Austin is a local player that has a big upside.”

Yearwood plans to spend his offseason working on his game in the Charlotte area, while Hilton aims to return to England and coach his local youth team. However, both players are excited about the prospects of returning to a team with high expectations for 2017.

“We have the ability with this squad to go all the way in the playoffs and certainly in the regular season,” said Hilton. “We just need to focus on a couple areas and we’ll firmly be a championship worthy squad.”