And thus, we begin our journey in looking at what we hope will be the (distant) future of a successful North American pro league. For 2015 and 2016′s potential classes, I’m only looking at overall and positional top fives due to the minimal evidence in front of me. We’ll be diving into the Top 70 for 2014 and a full big board for the upcoming 2013 draft. More ranking criteria will be provided once we get to 2013 & 2014′s rankings.
Overall Top 5
Cari Roccaro – D/M/F – Notre Dame
Summer Green – F – North Carolina
Janine Beckie – F – Texas Tech
Cassie Pecht – M – Duke
Katie Naughton – D – Notre Dame
Picking out the cream of the crop after just one season at this level is akin to throwing darts, but some have established themselves as top names to watch for the next three years. Cari Roccaro ends the season on top after a fantastic debut season at Notre Dame to go along with a winner’s medal from the U20 World Cup for the U.S. Roccaro’s versatility sees her edge out Summer Green, as the Irish rookie can do a job at center-back, defensive midfielder, or up front as a target forward. I think she’ll make a home in central defense at the next level, but her ability to play all over the pitch cannot be understated. Green helped UNC get over some growing pains in offense early on but receded into the background a bit with the return of Dunn and Ohai to the fold. She’s still a massive talent though and should round into a top notch attacking threat. Beckie’s performance against Florida State could effectively be her coming out party to the national consciousness, and the Colorado native is the type of player that can change a program forever. Pecht lived up to the hype in her first season with Duke, winning a spot in the starting lineup right away and delivering with a torrent of offense, which was no easy feat considering the talented attack around her. Naughton was another key piece in Notre Dame’s excellent 2012 season, helping to shut down some talented Big East forwards. The big central defender already looks one of the nation’s brightest young defensive prospects and should continue to shine in South Bend for three more seasons.
Christiane Endler – South Florida
Bryane Heaberlin – North Carolina
Abby Smith – Texas
Lindsey Luke – Utah
Amanda Engel – Marquette
It’s obviously still early doors with this group, but initial indications are that this crop of netminders could grow into the best class since the vaunted 2012 group. Endler’s probably going to be a surprise topping this list for some, but the Chilean has monstrous size and shot stopping ability to back it up. Her debut season at South Florida seems to have gone smoothly, and every indication is that she’ll be the backbone of her nation’s full national team for some time to come. The only question is whether she’ll get enough big game experience at a club like South Florida. Heaberlin obviously has tons of potential, but after some nervy moments in Japan and back in Chapel Hill as a rookie, she’s still got a long way to go in her development. She took a backseat to Adelaide Gay late in the season this year but should be odds on to claim the job at UNC next season. Smith is another of the U20 World Cup winners who got a late start in her college career this season but who could also round into a superior netminder. Redshirt freshman Lindsey Luke began her career at Wake Forest but transferred to Utah and immediately looked the part of a potential star in the making once she cracked the lineup in Salt Lake City early in the season. Likewise, Amanda Engel had to wait a while to win the starting job at Marquette, but she’s already gone some way in filling the sizable shoes of the club’s previous goalkeeping star, Natalie Kulla.
Cari Roccaro – Notre Dame
Katie Naughton – Notre Dame
Emily Sonnett – Virginia
Laura Liedle – Stanford
Jade Kovacevic – LSU
Sonnett came into Charlottesville as one of the nation’s most heralded defensive recruits and lived up to the billing as a rookie. The Cav freshman’s insertion into the starting lineup closely coincided with the team’s powerful late season run, and the Georgian looks to already have a bright future ahead of her. Stanford’s tradition of excellent full-backs looks to be continuing in earnest with Laura Liedle the latest to star for the Card. A fixture at left-back as a rookie, Liedle looks apt to follow in the shoes of the likes of Cami Levin and Rachel Quon on the flanks. Kovacevic is just one of many international starlets making their way down to Baton Rouge in recent years and could be one of the very best when all is said and done. Also capable in midfield, the Canadian already looks like a cornerstone for Brian Lee’s side and will likely be counted on for her home country as well in the not too distant future.
Cassie Pecht – Duke
Ashley Meier – Virginia Tech
Raquel Rodriguez – Penn State
Ashley Spivey – Maryland
Isabella Schmid – Florida State
Meier’s decision to sign with Virginia Tech was a big statement of intent for the Hokie program, and the big rookie was a revelation in 2012 with eight goals and three assists to her name. She was on the fringes of the U20 World Cup team that triumphed in Japan and figures to be one of the best ever for VT by the time she graduates. The future of the Costa Rican WNT looks brighter than ever, and the exploits of Raquel Rodriguez of Penn State is just one reason why. Rodriguez didn’t look out of place in the middle for the Nittany Lions this season as a rookie and will be called upon to help pick up some of the midfield slack left by Christine Nairn’s departure going into 2013. Ashley Spivey was one of the crown jewels in a star-studded recruiting class for Maryland and lived up to hefty expectations as one of two Terps to start every match for the club in 2012. Capable in the middle or out wide, Spivey figures to have a major impact for Maryland wherever she’s deployed over the next three seasons. Schmid was a surprising omission from Germany’s final team for the U20 World Cup, but the Seminoles reaped the rewards as she turned into a fixture in the starting lineup in short order. It’s no coincidence that Schmid’s absence from the lineup late in the season coincided with a down period for FSU, and though she didn’t post the stats of some of those listed above, Schmid should still be a hot commodity come 2016 if all goes according to plan for the German.
Summer Green – North Carolina
Janine Beckie – Texas Tech
Ifeoma Onumonu – Cal
Mallory Weber – Penn State
Makenzy Doniak – Virginia
Onumonu managed to steal many of the headlines among the rookie class in the Pac-12 this season, no easy task given the annual glut of freshman talent the league plays host to. Eleven goals as a rookie in the nation’s second toughest league was quite the eye-opener, with Onumonu impressing in Pac-12 play especially, with seven goals and three assists in the league. A club flush with attacking talent, Penn State got even stronger going forward this season with the addition of sensational freshman Mallory Weber to the fold. Weber’s offense was a godsend earlier in the season when Penn State found itself without Maya Hayes and Taylor Schram, and the rookie finished with thirteen goals and four assists in 2012. With the trio returning to terrorize defenses once again in 2013, their staggering offensive pace could increase still as they continue to develop chemistry together. Virginia’s Makenzy Doniak was a bit up and down as a rookie, but when she was on, she was electric, adding even more power to the Cavs’ potent attack. More consistency will likely come as she gains experience, and the Californian looks likely to spearhead UVA’s attack for years to come.