FAYETTEVILLE – In an effort to replace one of its most productive classes in school history, head coach Gordon Henderson and the University of Arkansas Lady Razorback soccer program is bringing in eight players for the 2007 fall season.
Seven of the eight newcomers signed national letters of intent with the Lady Razorbacks this week after the official signing period began last Wednesday morning, while an eighth player has already enrolled in school and begins her Lady Razorback career this spring.
“One of the things that define this class is the quality of the club teams that all play for,” Henderson said. “The fact is that every one of these players is a key on their current teams and the quality of the institutions that these players turned down to attend the University of Arkansas says a lot. This is a class that will do it’s talking on the field.”
In his search for the best talent in the nation, Henderson has signed student-athletes from coast-to-coast this year with three players from California, two from Virginia, one from Oklahoma and two from Arkansas. Coupled with his previous two signing classes, Henderson’s search has incorporated players from nine different states.
Making sure to grab the best from his own state, Henderson made it a point of emphasis to grab in-state prospects Kelly O’Connor and Sam Bolton. O’Connor, from Bentonville, Ark., was the Gatorade state player of the year her junior season when she scored 25 goals and added 11 assists in 22 games. That year she picked up high school all-America honors and was named the National Soccer Coaches of America Association’s (NSCAA) state player of the year. Her accolades over her first three seasons placed her on SoccerBuzz Magazine’s Top 200 of high school seniors to watch for.
“Quite simply put, Kelly is probably the most highly recruited and best prep player to come out of the state of Arkansas to date,” Henderson said. “She is a legitimate top level SEC player, has a thunderous shot and a tenacious ‘never say die’ attitude. She is technically sound with good athletic speed and is very strong on the ball. We expect big things of Kelly.”
Bolton joins the Lady’Backs from Rogers, Ark., where she also earned Gatorade state player of the year honors, although as a sophomore. She has led her Rogers High School team to three consecutive state championships and has been a mainstay on the Arkansas state ODP team. A defender by trade, she also has a knack for goal with 20 scores and 18 assists in three seasons of high school soccer.
“We were very fortunate this year to have two legitimate SEC caliber players coming out of our state this year,” said Henderson. “Sam is a natural leader who strives to be the best in everything she does. In doing so, she inspires those around her to do the same. She is infectious. A tremendous defender, she relishes the 1-v-1 challenges to impose her authority on opposing players.”
Attempting to fill a need for a second goalkeeper, Arkansas turned to Britni Williams of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. A four-year varsity starter and three-time all-league selection, Williams has never allowed more than a 0.53 goals against average in her four years of high school and club soccer combined. She has led her Los Osos High School team to two league runner-up finishes and a league championship and is currently ranked ninth in southern California.
“Britni has the potential to be one of Arkansas’ best goalkeepers,” Henderson said. “She is incredibly athletic, controls her 18 yd area well (especially in the air) and is very quick off her line. She is very comfortable with the ball at her feet and plays for one of the best teams in southern California. An ODP player, she is already playing at a very high level and we are truly excited about her potential.”
One of the few national pool players to ever come to Arkansas, Camille Flores is another California native who has a list of credentials. A two-year all-league player, she was a key component in Ruben S. Ayala High School’s league championship as a true freshman and second-place finish as a sophomore. She has taken all-league honors twice and was named all-CIF as a sophomore. She missed her junior year to injury, but is back on the field this year and playing some of her best soccer to date.
“Any time you get a national pool player entering your squad, it is a great addition,” said Henderson. “She had a great national camp in Massachusetts set up before tearing her ACL. No doubt about it, though, she is back as good, maybe better than she was before. She is technically very gifted, has superb vision and great passing ability. She is sneaky quick and is able to link into the attack very well from her traditional role in midfield.”
Rounding out the California signees is Amanda Koman who hails from San Bernardino, Calif. A two-time all-league selection and team MVP as a junior, she has played some of her best soccer with FC Barcelona in Pasadena. There she has won numerous tournaments and since her days in the U11 leagues and has been a member of the ODP pool.
“Amanda is a very gifted central midfield player,” Henderson said. “Traditionally, she plays more of a holding midfield role which suits our style of play and is a very good defender in open space. Amanda is technically very sound and very tough in the tackle.”
The Lady Razorbacks’ lone Sooner state signee, Rachel Carlson, gives Arkansas a presence in the offensive third. She is a seven-time club soccer state champion and led Jenks High School to a state championship last year. She is a member of the Oklahoma state ODP team and has decimated opposing goalkeepers with her skills.
“Rachel is a dynamic front runner,” said Henderson. “She combines two unique talents; exceptional speed and a tireless work rate. Usually players have one or the other, not both. Those assets should cause our opponents defenses fits as she has the ability to place high pressure for long periods of the game. Technically, she is very sound and loves to score goals. I can’t wait to see her play in an Arkansas uniform.”
Arkansas’ final signee, Claire Hakim, hails from McLean, Va., and is a stout defender for both her high school and club teams. She has been named second-team all-district for the past three seasons and as a junior was named to the Washington Post’s all-metro honorable mention squad.
“Claire is a player that has flown under the radar a bit,” Henderson said. “She has been a mainstay of the Reston Rockets for many years and is everything you could want in a defender. She isn’t flashy, doesn’t make many mistakes, plays a simple game, and as a result, doesn’t get noticed much. She is the stable influence on a very good club team that has won many titles.”
Already on campus and joining Arkansas in spring drills is Virginia native Allison Atkins. A three-time all-conference and two-time all-district player, Atkins can play either forward of outside midfield for the Lady Razorbacks this fall making her one of the most versatile players on the field. She has a knack for the goal and should be a significant player for the Lady Razorbacks this fall after getting a head start on her collegiate career.
“Allison is very adept at taking players on 1-v-1,” Henderson said. “She has good pace and good dribbling ability and has played with some of the best club teams on the east coast which further demonstrates her ability level. She loves to score goals and doesn’t mind being the ‘scrapper’ in the penalty box. She does whatever it takes to get on the end of a ball and score.”
For more information about Lady Razorback soccer or about Arkansas women’s athletics, please go to LADYBACKS.COM.