Laying the Foundation
October 3, 2011
by Jessika Bailey
Lubbock has a certain ambiance that attracts many future Red Raider soccer players. Head coach Tom Stone's recruiting philosophy is that if he can get a potential student into town on a Friday night with 75-degree-weather and not a single cloud in the sky, their eyes widen. Saturday morning, he even hopes they tailgate with friends and attend a Texas Tech football game.
By Sunday, recruits are ready to come back and be Red Raiders.
A prime example of his philosophy working was when sophomore forward Jessica Fuston was recruited. Fuston visited the campus at a young age, and came back for a more formal visit at 16, and eventually she chose Tech as her new home. The Texas Tech Soccer program is growing faster than ever after recent years of success, and Stone has assembled a team that is hoping to go to the NCAA Tournament this year.
However, before the season even begins, recruits are found to build an even stronger team each following year.
Recruitment for the soccer program begins at a much younger level than most other athletic programs. Stone and his staff discover girls when they are as young as 14 years old.
"Sometimes you have super advanced notice about somebody just through our relationships with various clubs around the country," he said.
"We were thinking `it's great but she's too young to evaluate now', but we watched her," he said. "Once we started watching her, it was clear that she was someone who was really going to develop into a tremendous college talent. She came back on a more formal visit the next time and watched us play."
When she was 16, Stone made the offer to Fuston to play at Texas Tech.
"Fortunately she accepted," he said.
Fuston graduated high school early, and came Lubbock during the spring semester which, Stone said, was a bonus to the team. Stone and Fuston both agreed that starting a semester early helped ease the transition from high school and club soccer to college soccer.
Fuston was able to work out with the team, play in some college games, become comfortable with her teammates, all while becoming familiar with the level and pace of the game. Once the season arrived, Fuston had an advantage over the incoming freshmen.
Fuston felt comfort about her decision to play at Texas Tech after her support team reassured her commitment.
"Tom [Stone] made me feel comfortable (about my decision)," she said. "My club coaches and my parents helped so it wasn't bad whenever the process was done."
Fuston played in 20 games in her first season, starting 18 of the 20 games. She was named Big 12 Rookie of the Year, All-Big 12 second team and selected to the Big 12 All-Newcomer team. She was also named Big 12 Newcomer of the Week three times. It's clear that Stone's recruiting style has benefited the soccer program immensely. He focused on bringing the program up in ranks among the rest of the Big 12 conference as his first goal.
"When we got here four years ago, our first thing was that we had to let it be known that we could be competitive and we could win here," he said. "We had to make it clear early on that we were going to be a program that would build itself into a championship team and we were able to establish that in our first year."
During the first year under Stone, the Red Raiders won five Big 12 games and finished in the top five of the conference.
Stone says the next step to having a successful team and finding top-notch recruits is to show the commitment level of the program to the potential new players.
"Step two was the construction of the John Walker Soccer Facility," Stone said. "Once that was underway, we were able to show recruits and families looking to commit with Texas Tech that it's their soccer program. They want to win and have a professional atmosphere type place to hang their hat everyday."
A new addition to the John Walker Soccer Complex is coming soon to the south end of the stadium that will be sure to catch the eye of a new soccer hopeful. The new indoor, soccer-specific training facility will enclose the current practice field.
"It will be the first one of its kind in the country," Stone said.
The new addition will give the team their own facility for year-round training and open up the indoor Athletic Training Center for other teams to use during winter months.
With the most recent recruiting class already making strides on the field this season, including goalkeeper Victoria Esson, a native of Christchurch, New Zealand, the goal for this team is clear--making the NCAA Tournament
"This is a good team with seniors at key positions and upperclassmen at key positions, and there is no reason why we can't have a great year," Stone said.