By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
A Flying Eagle, a General, a Bruin and four other “hard-nosed” soccer players comprise the core of a new class of Concord University women’s soccer recruits for this fall.
Seven young women signed letters of intent to join the Mountain Lions when NCAA Division II opened the window for “signing day” last month.
“To be honest with you, this is a really strong recruiting class,” said Stefani Workman, who will begin her fifth season as the mentor of the women’s team this fall.
Some are familiar to soccer fans in our area. Sarah Akers was a standout for the Woodrow Wilson Flying Eagles in Beckley. Micha Rae Thompson helped the Winfield Generals win a repeat Class AAA state championship last fall. Carley Graves will leave the Blacksburg Bruins upon graduating this spring.
“We like to have them close by,” Workman said. “It gives them an opportunity to bring fans in, with their families and friends being so close — but they’ll definitely bring a good, hard edge to the team.”
Akers, listed by Concord at both midfield and back, made first-team all-state and all-Mountain State Athletic Conference. She has earned four letters in soccer and three in basketball at Woodrow Wilson. The Flying Eagles soccer team was 11-7-4 last season.
The coach said, “Sarah is kind of an anchor for her team now, and I think that she’ll be able to bring that same type of quality and leadership to our program. She’s very technical, very calm, and I think that’s something that she can definitely take advantage of, bringing to this team in the fall.”
Thompson will rejoin a couple of Winfield alumni in the soccer program, Emily Cole and Cassidy Maynard. The Generals were 24-1 in their second consecutive championship season.
Thompson, also listed as a midfielder or defender, made first team all-state this winter after three years on the second team list. She also plays for the West Virginia Chaos.
Workman said about Winfield’s program, “We have a good relationship with them, and (coach Marshall Hoff) helps produce quality players.”
Graves led Blacksburg High to three district championships, three River Ridge tournament titles, two regional crowns and three appearances in the Virginia High School League AA Final Four — and her senior year is still to come, this spring.
Workman said, "Carley brings a presence to the field of play. She has the versatility to move anywhere across the back line. She is hard defender that will give problems for any opposing forwards."
Virginia plays prep soccer in the spring, while it is a fall sport in West Virginia. That’s fine with Workman.
“We try to take the opportunity during our season to go out and catch some games when we can, especially the local ones,” she said. “But also having Virginia in the spring gives us an opportunity to ... see them as well.”
However, club soccer “right now, I would say, definitely has taken over high school, for sure,” Workman said. “They have tryouts, and they pick the best players from their regions or states or whatever, to make their teams better.”
“For example, a local team like the Roanoke Star is going to have kids from Christiansburg, Blacksburg, Roanoke, Salem, all on one team.”
“That gives us the opportunity to go watch a team that has kind of got all the kids who are committed to playing the game, who are committed to doing the extra work. Those are the kids who usually want to play in college, so it makes it easier for us college coaches to go recruiting.”
Workman listed Washington, D.C. as “a big area for us to go recruiting in.” Other likely stops are Raleigh, N.C., Richmond, Va., and Cincinnati.
“We do regionally recruit, and those are the ways that we get to see more people play,” she said.
Concord has signed two Ohio residents and club soccer veterans, midfielder Chelsea Clawson and back Kaeli Studebaker. Workman said, “They are both kind of Midwest, hard-nosed kids — blue-collar, work hard. They’re going to bring a lot of that to the team.”
“Chelsea’s very scrappy and wants to score goals, and Kaeli is very calming in the back, and she’s a hard hitter, so it’ll be tough for those forwards to get through on her end.”
Delaware resident Kaylyn Fauntleroy, a forward, has devoted the last few years to scoring for a club team, while earning four letters in track and field at her high school.
“Her speed is exceptional,” said Workman. “She should be able to put the ball in the back of the net for us. We struggled a little bit last year (because) our team was so young.”
“She’ll bring a different dynamic, and take some pressure off of Kari (Simon) and Emily (Cole) to have to do all the (strikes on goal).”
Workman describes midfielder Karri Albanese, from Fort Washington, Md., as “scrappy, good in the air. She’s a really hard-nosed kid, and I think that she can bring that intensity that we need to compete in the MEC (Mountain East Conference).”
“We have two backs, three midfielders and two forwards, so we’re kind of spreading that out across the (field). That’s what you want when you bring in a class. You want to try to get at least one in each one, and then you fill in around those.”
“We are looking at a goalkeeper. We haven’t gotten one yet, but if we don’t find one this year, we still have two on the roster that can definitely anchor for us.”
Kristen Twomey started about half of Concord’s games as a freshman last year. Workman said, “She’ll be coming into her sophomore year and have a little bit more leadership under her belt, so she’ll probably feel a little more comfortable back there.”
The presence of two Ohio institutions in the new Mountain East Conference, Notre Dame College and Urbana University, has “opened up the door a little bit in Ohio for us (for recruiting),” Workman said.
But don’t look for the overall recruiting approach to change.
“Other than opening the doors for those kids, our philosophy hasn’t changed very much,” Workman said. “We try to go out and get the best kids.”
“A lot of kids, we lose to Division I schools. We’re trying to get the highest quality we can, and bring them here — not only just quality playing, but they’re also athletes who are going to graduate and make good grades and we’re not going to have to worry about them while they’re here.”
At this point in the academic year, she said the focus is on simply getting the recruits through the application and enrollment process.
“But when May hits, they get a summer packet and a workout,” she said. That includes a “kind of all-encompassing” series of workouts for fitness, weight training and technical soccer skills.
Workman said, “That way, they can come with a good fitness background, and we can really hit the tactical part when they get here.”
By mid-August, other factors for soccer success are expected to kick in. The returning players are expected to “teach them what they need to do to be successful,” she said. Bonds of friendship are also important.
“I think the faster that you can become friends, the more apt your team is to win,” the coach said. “That is a big adjustment for not only my team, but for any team in general.”
“I feel like we have good leadership group coming up in our senior class. Hopefully, they can pass along their knowledge.”
“And I feel like we have a pretty bright freshman class coming in. They’ll pick up, quick. They’ve been on very good club teams, or very good, successful high school teams. That is going to allow us, maybe, to push them a little bit faster than maybe some of the freshmen in the past.”
Workman’s squad, fielding several inexperienced players last fall, went 6-9-2 after posting a 10-7-1 slate in 2012.
—Contact Tom Bone