Recruiting class has Lady Railsplitters primed for 2018

Published 5:34 pm Monday, August 6, 2018

HARROGATE, Tenn. — It was pretty easy to see what kind of team Sean Fraser wanted to build in his first season leading the Lincoln Memorial University women’s soccer team in 2017.

The on-the-field product reflected that vision, as Fraser engineered a four-win improvement by implementing a strategic system of play that focused on pressing and possession with the goal of creating as many scoring chances as possible. The outcome could have been even better than the Lady Railsplitters’ final record of 7-10, as the team was haunted by incredibly bad fortune in close matches with a program-record seven one-goal losses.

Fraser learned a lot in his first season as the head coach of a women’s soccer program and has made some small adjustments strategically to turn the Lady Railsplitters’ luck around in 2018.

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“It is slightly different,” Fraser said. “It’s not as different as people say it is – it’s still 11 players running around playing against another 11 players with one ball and two goals – but the game has little differences. So, I have adapted slightly to what I think is going to be successful while maintaining the same principles.”

While Fraser made only minimal alterations to how the Lady Railsplitters will play this season, the roster underwent a drastic overhaul this summer with 19 new players set to make their debuts in just a few short weeks.

As is always the case with Fraser, there was a specific goal in mind behind both the size of the class and the players that are a part of it. First and foremost, it was about identifying the pieces that were best suited for what Fraser wants to do on the pitch.

“Everything did improve last season through the implementation of the principles that are important to us as coaches,” Fraser said. “Now we’ve got a recruiting class coming in that better fits those principles. It’s going to be players that suit the principles we put in play a lot more.

“We have a system, we have a style of play, we have our principles, and we’ve recruited specifically to that. We definitely feel like we have the options to be successful.”

When constructing the roster, balance was key to Fraser in every sense of the word. In short, he wanted balance in terms of class, where the players came from and their experience level.

“I’m excited about it. We’ve been able to regionalize a bit more,” Fraser said. “We’ve got some local girls coming in from within 30 minutes to an hour who are going to be able to help us. We’ve got a little sprinkle of diversity in there as well with four internationals coming in. And then we’ve got a couple of girls from out of state as well.”

Like most rosters that undergo seismic transformations, the Lady Railsplitters are young with 12 freshmen making up the bulk of the 19-player recruiting class. However, the newcomers are far from inexperienced while many have eye-popping resumes.

“Ultimately we are bringing in players who have got good experience at this level already and hopefully that helps us hit the ground running as we get started,” Fraser noted.

There are several notable freshmen that have played at the highest levels of the sport joining the Lady Railsplitters this season, including Daisy Drake, who played for the English under-18 national team, Fabienne Loetscher, who played for one of the elite clubs in Switzerland, and Jessica Cravero, who represented the Italian under-18 national team.

That trio will be joined by in-state talents Lauren Wood, Rachel Taylor and Lindsay Horton to name a few. Wood starred at Powell High School and played against rising sophomore Mariana Diaz, a Halls High School graduate who showed flashes of brilliance last season.

Taylor scored 26 goals and earned All-State accolades last season at Rossview High School. Horton is also expected to vie for playing time after turning heads at nearby Campbell County High School. Katie Pridemore is also bringing her talents to Lincoln Memorial from just over the border to Virginia at Lee Country High School.

Fraser also balanced the roster with the addition of several accomplished transfers.

That group is highlighted by forward Itzel Ballesteros, who combined for 34 goals and 38 assists in two seasons at Cerritos College while garnering first team All-American accolades last year. Her teammate and two-time All-Conference midfielder Maria Hernandez also signed with the Lady Railsplitters this summer.

Fraser also brought in Middle Tennessee State transfer Jessica Steen, Northumbria University transfer Robyn Foster and two junior college goalkeepers, Ann-Marie O’Connell and Emily Murphy.

“We wanted to bring in players with big resumes, but ones that are hungry and humble – humble to achieve,” Fraser said. “We’re excited. I just think we have the right mix this year.”

Fraser and his staff have assembled an impressive class both in size and talent, with all 19 new players expected to make significant contributions during their time in Harrogate.

With that many new players, it will be paramount to integrate the roster in the brief time allotted in the preseason before the 2018 opener arrives on Aug. 30. That process began in earnest well before the players arrived back on campus, though, as the coaching staff put the onus on the returners to reach out to the newcomers and develop connections this summer.

Fraser’s vision for the program was set in motion last season with the installation of a laser-focused system of play, and the potential for greatness was evident, even though the roster was constructed with players not quite built for the system. Now that the roster has been shaped with the system in mind, Fraser’s vision can be fully realized.

“I think that we have a nice little thing that we are building here and I’m looking forward to seeing how it all fits together.”