After signing only three players on National Signing Day last year, Sam Houston State soccer added seven high school seniors and two transfers to its arsenal Wednesday.
Head coach Tom Brown stressed this recruiting class was huge for the Bearkats since they will lose 10 seniors after the next season.
“In that 10 seniors, there will be six starters,” Brown said. “We need to make sure that not only are these kids going to be very good for what we think will be a very, very good 2015 team, but they have to be ready to kind of continue the winning and the opportunity for us to be very successful.”
In 2013, Brown signed nine players to his squad, but after the players’ freshman season, four of the nine players departed, including standout Shannon Shields. With the bigger recruiting class this year, Brown is hoping to keep these seven players for all four years as Bearkats.
“I think our culture is pretty special now,” Brown said. “We realize team culture and team chemistry is a verb. It’s ever changing, and we want to keep moving forward.”
Midfielder Bailey Strong from Jenks, Oklahoma headlines the 2015 class for SHSU. Strong is a four-year player at Jenks High School and also played for Tulsa Soccer Club 97 ECNL the past four years, winning the ECNL North American League National Championship in 2013.
“I think Bailey Strong is a player that can really get in for us right away,” Brown said. “We heard from coaches in bigger conferences that have told me, ‘Wow. She’s going to be a great player for you.’ I think she’s going to be a player that’s going to play much bigger than her stature.”
Strong is joined by teammate Meredith Carlson, a midfielder for Jenks and Tulsa Soccer Club as well. Carlson is considered a three star player by TopDrawerSoccer.
Brown brings in a balanced recruiting class with two forwards, two defenders and one goalkeeper signing as well.
Forward Lindsey Bienski hails from Klein High School and plays club soccer for the Challenge 97 ECNL team. She is a three star player, according to TopDrawerSoccer, and is ranked as the No. 53 player in the region. She will be accompanied upfront with Micaela Birt from Timber Creek High School in Fort Worth. The 5-foot-10-inch forward led her high school team in 2014 with 14 goals and six assists and was named District 11-4A Offensive Newcomer of the Year in 2012.
“[Birt] is a big solid player,” Brown said. “She can be very good playing in between the two centerbacks but also has the speed to play outside. We’re excited about the versatility she brings to us.”
The two additions to the backline are Lauren Ledbetter and Whitney Woodward. Ledbetter is a defender from Rockwall Heath High School in Rockwall who plays club for Sting 97. Woodward is a three-time all-district defender from Hendrickson High School in Pflugerville who plays club for Lonestar 97 ECNL.
Goalkeeper Bailey Swain from Mabank rounds out the incoming freshmen class for the Bearkats. Although Swain does not play club, Brown describes her as the best athlete from the class. Swain won District 15-3A Most Valuable Player in 2014 and was district Player of the Year in volleyball. She also played varsity basketball for one year and runs track.
“Most of our class has been put together somewhere between a year and 18 months ago,” Brown said. “She’s one we put together right at the last second. She comes in with such raw athleticism already to start with.”
Brown also brought in two transfers over the break. Sophomore goalkeeper Taylor Erwin made two appearances her freshman year for the University of Arkansas before redshirting her sophomore season. Midfielder Alexis Riggs played her junior season for Arkansas State and spent two seasons with Navarro College prior to then. Riggs made 18 appearances for the Red Wolves and started in 17 games.
“[Riggs is] a player that obviously we wouldn’t necessarily want to take if we didn’t think she would come in and impact the program in one year,” Brown said.
With now 28 players to his roster, Brown said he looks to see a competitive battle for his starting 11.
“We felt it was competitive last year, and it brought out some talents of some players that were really able to impact,” Brown said. “The more depth that we have, the better that we’re going to be all the way around. There are seven other players that are impact players that start at their club, that start at their high school and all believe that they will be starters when they get here, so [the 21 players now] better be training hard, because there is somebody that wants to take their spot.”