Positional Top Fives
1. Rose Chandler – Penn State
2. Devon Kerr – Ohio State
3. Sarah Le Beau – Auburn
4. Ella Dederick – Washington State
5. Vera Varis – UCF
1. Alana Cook – Stanford
2. Kaleigh Riehl – Penn State
3. Natalie Jacobs – Notre Dame
4. Ellie Jean – Penn State
5. Ally Prisock – USC
1. Megan Connolly – Florida State
2. Taylor Racioppi – Duke
3. Betsy Brandon – Virginia
4. Natalia Kuikka – Florida State
5. Jordan DiBiasi – Stanford
1. Mimi Asom – Princeton
2. Michelle Xiao – Stanford
3. CeCe Kizer – Ole Miss
4. Leah Pruitt – San Diego State
5. Kyra Carusa – Stanford
Overall Top 25
1. Megan Connolly – MF (AMC) – Florida State
Quite simply on another level compared to the other freshmen in Division I in 2015. Connolly probably put together one of the best rookie seasons in recent memory at this level last season and could realistic stake a claim as one of the nation’s best players as she enters her sophomore season having already been named a first team All-American last season and a semi-finalist for the Hermann Trophy. Had some gigantic shoes to fill as a rookie coming in for Dagny Brynjarsdottir in the club’s #10 role in the 4-2-3-1 and now looks like she may have the potential to someday eclipse the Icelandic great in the annals of FSU history. Despite missing three games for international commitments with Ireland, Connolly still netted nine goals and ten assists, but her contributions were more than just what she got on the stat sheet, as her presence at the heart of the attack helped free up the rest of the club’s frontrunners. Connolly’s ability to make things happen and make everyone else around her better is undoubtable, and the Irish international could make history as the first foreign player to be taken #1 if she decides to stay on these shores. If she doesn’t, Connolly will surely be a hot commodity for any ambitious European club.
2. Alana Cook – D (CB) – Stanford
The Card got a stud and a half with Cook, who looks like the crown jewel in another outstanding recruiting class for Paul Ratcliffe’s program. All Cook did as a rookie was step right into a defense that has built a legacy of being a brick wall and partner Maddie Bauer to give Stanford one of the best center-back duos in the nation. Cook had been a mainstay at U17 level coming into Stanford but hadn’t really seen her career ignite at U20 level to follow but put together a brilliant rookie season, winning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors to go along with many other plaudits celebrating her season. Netted three goals to go with her superlative defensive play and should again partner with Bauer in central defense to dominate opposing offenses this year. Cook had worked her way back into the reckoning for the U20 World Cup after last season but looks set to miss out like her Stanford brethren after the controversial redshirt requirement was enacted. It just means the New Jersey native will have to do her best on the backline of a national title contender in 2016.
3. Taylor Racioppi – MF (AMC) – Duke
Another of the youngsters who made the U.S. U20 World Cup roster during the ill-fated 2014 cycle, Racioppi probably put some of the hard lessons learned during that tournament to good use during last year’s dream season for the Blue Devils. Racioppi was miscast as a makeshift center-forward early on for Duke at times last season which definitely isn’t her game, but the Blue Devil offense really got going once Racioppi slid back into a more natural attacking midfield role. Led Duke in assists with six as a rookie and finished second in goals with seven, though her efficiency numbers were ghastly, and many of those goals and assists didn’t come against elite competition. Blue Devils were pretty young in parts in the attack, so Racioppi’s play could grow exponentially as the supporting cast around her matures. Figures to have Duke contending for more College Cup berths in the next few years, but Racioppi is likely to be one of the main keys for success for this year’s U20 World Cup team as a likely starter for the competition.
4. Kaleigh Riehl – D (CB) – Penn State
A lynchpin for the U20 team for the U.S. and all but assured of a spot on the final roster for the 2016 edition of the event should she keep herself in the running for a spot. Riehl quickly established herself as not just one of the best freshmen defenders in the country last season but one of the college game’s best overall defenders after anchoring a backline that carried PSU to their first national title. Started all twenty-seven matches as a rookie and went the distance in eighteen of those matches while being the glue in the middle of a very young back four. Not a prolific scorer or assister from her center-back spot but good for the odd goal or assist and saved them for some pretty big matches as a rookie. I’m not quite sure if she’s a franchise cornerstone type of player yet, but Riehl currently tracks out as a player with great pro potential after last year and will be looking to raise her profile again at the U20 World Cup this year.
5. Natalie Jacobs – D (CB), F (RF) – Notre Dame
First things first, is she a center-back or is she a forward? Jacobs plays centrally for the U.S. U20s but featured frequently as a right-forward in the Irish’s 4-3-3 as a freshman last season, so there’s certainly versatility there if nothing else. Came into South Bend as one of last year’s most heavily hyped recruits and did well as a rookie for the perennial ACC contender, starting fifteen matches for the club. There is a worry that Jacobs didn’t particularly show an acute touch in front of goal though, taking fifty-two shots as a freshman but just scoring four times to go with a brutal 40.4% SOG mark. Five assists help her cause, but if her efficiency numbers can’t improve, it might be time for a full-time switch back to central defense. It’s tough envisioning Jacobs not being on the U20 team for the Fall’s U20 World Cup, so her timetable could get pushed back, but regardless, the competition in Papua New Guinea is likely to be a big determinant of where Jacobs’ stock ends up after this year.