By David Cohen
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
When TCU head soccer coach Eric Bell signed 13 players last June, there were bound to be more new faces on the roster than at most schools. That did not necessarily mean everyone was one.
The Horned Frogs made quite the bargain, grabbing not one, not two, but three girls from the Eclipse Select Soccer Club in the Chicago area, a move that has already begun paying off this season.
Michelle Mottonen, Michelle Prokof and Lauren Sajewich may have all chosen to play for the Purple and White, but at the same time they all made the mature decision to go where they wanted to go, not just where their friends went.
“It was actually real independent and became a coincidence,” Sajewich, who hails from Frankfort, Ill., said. “[Mottonen] committed here the earliest, I wasn’t looking here and Michelle had a torn ACL, so her college process was pushed back a little bit.”
That changed shortly after.
“We were at a college showcase and I knew TCU was there and once Eric came, he started looking at me,” Sajewich said. “Michelle [Prokof] came on one of my visits and he got interested in her. It was kind of a coincidence.”
Most northern people who move south cite the weather as the biggest adjustment. Sajewich has so far shown impressive stamina in the always-hot Texas autumns, playing every minute of the season thus far. All 1,522 of them.
“All throughout club they prepared us for the fitness of college,” Sajewich said. “Personally I took pride in fitness and working quite often to get fit and stay fit. With all the resources and summer training, I’ve been able to stay fit.”
Her energy has certainly paid off, as she scored her first goal of the season in a 3-2 overtime loss to No. 9 West Virginia on Oct. 13. It seems fitting that one of her old teammates, Prokof, would have the other score.
“We were down 1-0 and I felt good about the game,” Sajewich said. “I felt it was time for a goal and I hadn’t had one in a while. When [Makenzie Koch] hit the free kick, I was on the back post and it came down right in front of me, it was instinct. I felt great.”
Prokof’s goal in that contest was her seventh of the season, which is three ahead of the next-closest Horned Frog for the team lead. Almost half of them came on Sept. 22, when Prokof recorded TCU’s first hat trick since 2009 in a 3-0 win over Central Arkansas.
As a true freshman playing in the Big 12, she proudly looks back on the preparation she received with Eclipse as well as the summer practices before this season.
“I think there’s a confidence part that comes with [the early success],” Prokof, a native of Gurnee, Ill., said. “When I came here in the summer, I didn’t have all the confidence that I wanted. Since I came a month earlier, we were out playing with a bunch of the girls and I think I got some confidence from that.
“Playing two preseason games helped get the nerves out and coming in ready to go. Scoring goals is part of that.”
While Prokof noted the warm weather as the biggest adjustment to Texas life, she also credited another change in atmosphere with how the young squad has performed so far.
“Lauren and I watch a lot of soccer,” Prokof said. “We, and Eric [Bell] and Ryan [Higginbotham] too, want to bring an atmosphere of watching soccer. We wanted to bring that aspect now. We wanted people to pick a team so it’s not just competitive on the field but off it too. It goes with whose team is beating the whose and how everyone’s team is doing.
“I like Arsenal, and Lauren is a fan of Liverpool.”
Mottonen, out of South Barrington, Ill., is another one of the girls who has begun watching the sport elsewhere, but admits she has not caught onto a specific team yet.
“I like to say I jumped on the bandwagon, like the Arsenal,” she said. “But obviously I’m not the same kind of junkie as some of the others.”
Mottonen, who has started seven games for the Horned Frogs, may have been the first of the three Chicago girls to independently commit to TCU, but she admits the security they have with one another cannot be replaced.
“It’s really comforting having the other two here with me,” she said. “It’s been an easy transition with the other two to fall back on. The [Eclipse] coaches keep in touch with us as a unit. We came from a family-oriented club so it’s good to have them here.”The road to college is full of unknowns. Whether students stay close to home or move across the country, they never really know what to expect. Fortunately for TCU’s three Chicago freshmen who all came to Fort Worth on their own accord, they have a support system rivaled by few.