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English import Daly proves to be missing piece

Forward Rachel Daly (c.) has helped point the way to success for the Red Storm this season. Photo courtesy Vincent Dusovic/SJU
TimesLedger Newspapers

Rachel Daly was worth the risk and the wait.

The St. John’s University sophomore forward leads the nation in goals with 13 and has the Red Storm women’s soccer team off to a 7-1-2 start. Her success on the pitch makes up for the initial uncertainty of whether the Harrogate, England, native would be eligible to play because of NCAA compliance rules involving overseas students as well as the delay before she was allowed to take the field. Daly had to wait a year and watched from the sidelines last season, but since then she has made her presence felt.

“It’s those people who can score the goals that get millions of dollars all over the world,” Red Storm Coach Ian Stone said. “I’m happy that we’ve got someone that we don’t have to pay a million who can do it for us.”

But it wasn’t a given that Daly would play for St. John’s.

Stone called recruiting Daly a massive risk, but her friend and current teammate Georgia Kearney-Perry told him that Daly, who played for the English national team at numerous levels, was worth the school’s time and effort.

Growing up in a town of around 70,000 people, Daly was intrigued by the chance to play in New York City and having a friend here made the transition easier. Four days before leaving for the United States, Daly was told just that she could be eligible to play for St. John’s in a year.

“It was a risk, but it was worth it in the end,” she said.

Daly and St. John’s are currently cashing in as she has become a much-watched player. She recorded a hat trick in her second collegiate regular season game. Last week, she scored twice against Xavier to give the Red Storm its first Big East win. Daly, who played defense her last five years in England, is just four goals away from the program’s record for a season of 17 set by Cristin Burtis in 1994. Her accomplishments so far have exceeded anything she could have envisioned.

“It is kind of surreal at the same time because I never expected it to be this way, but I wanted it to be this way,” Daly said.

She was the missing piece to a Johnnies team that scored just 13 goals all last season, which Stone described as heartbreaking and the most frustrating of his career. Daly could practice with the team, but then had to watch from the bench as the squad struggled to create offense in games.

“It was a very, very long year knowing that she was there and not being able to play,” Stone said.

Now she has the Red Storm wondering how long they can keep their season going. Stone believes they can compete for a Big East title and possibly make their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2009. It’s all thanks to Daly and strong defense led by Sarah Ashmore, Hailey Hemmer, Rachel Hoffman and goalie Ellen Conway that has allowed just two goals.

For the Red Storm to make it to the playoffs, Daly will have to keep providing what St. John’s waited a year for.

“I’ll do anything I can to make sure we win a game,” Daly said. “Right now that means me putting the ball in the back of the net.”

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