When Rachel Daly was officially named to England’s roster for the upcoming World Cup in France, the excitement could be felt on both sides of the Atlantic, including the campus of St. John’s University.
Among those celebrating the Harrogate, England, native being named to the Lionesses squad was Ian Stone, Daly’s former college head coach.
During her three years on the Belson Stadium pitch, Daly set a host of school records and was named an NSCAA First Team All-American following her senior season. Since leaving St. John’s, Daly has played professionally with the NWSL’s Houston Dash.
“She has always been a fantastic soccer player,” Stone told SleterFC.com in an interview just days after Daly was named to the England team. “I’m happy to see her evolution and her performances recently for the national team. This has been a lifelong goal of hers and she had to work hard to get to this point.”
While Daly had a stellar playing career for the Red Storm, her time at St. John’s almost didn’t happen. A friend of Daly’s and one of Stone’s players, Georgia Kearney-Perry, alerted the head coach to the fact that Daly had interest in attending St. John’s.
Arriving at the Queens-based campus in 2012, Stone said he could immediately see there was something special about his latest import from across the Atlantic.
Her first practice was held in the heat and humidity that is commonplace of a New York summer. And while the Big Apple’s weather may have been an initial shock to Daly’s system, her talent was obvious.
“Watching her take part in 4v4 drills you could see she was at a whole different level from the tactical side,” he recalled. “She was comfortable with both feet and every touch was perfect.”
Daly was forced to sit out her freshman season due to NCAA compliance regulations. And while she could practice with the team, not playing in matches was a struggle for her, Stone said.
Her sophomore season proved to be a coming out party for Daly. In 21 matches, all starts, her 23 goals led the nation and set a new school record. She also named St. John’s first-ever NSCAA All-American as a member of the second team.
“She was a huge surprise and a big shock to the system for many teams,” Stone said. “While she played as an outside back in England, we knew she could play anywhere for us. We had to figure out how she could make the biggest impact for us and help us win games. The word (about Daly) got out quickly when she started scoring goals.”
Her offensive production dipped in her junior year, which her former head coach said was the result of her having a long summer playing soccer in Los Angeles.
Daly would close out her collegiate career in style. In 20 matches, she scored 19 goals and was named a First Team All-American.
Since leaving St. John’s in 2016, Stone said the biggest change he has seen in his former player is her enhanced commitment to proper nutrition and training.
“When she first got here, she had the mentality of the old school English player and thought she could eat and drink whatever she wanted,” he recalled. “But she has now embraced the lifestyle of a professional athlete. She is focused on strength training and is much more conscious of what she eats.”
Having a former player on a World Cup team is also a source of pride for Stone and his coaching staff, assistants Jen Bethea and Amy Marron, both former St. John’s players. But he equates his role in helping Daly reach a high level of success in a sport that he loves with helping other former players reach professional heights off the pitch.
“The way I feel about Rachel is the way I feel about former players that went on to be doctors or lawyers,” he said. “It’s a similar feeling knowing that we have helped them develop their careers.”
In June, Stone — a native of Bristol, England — will be in France with Bethea and Marron cheering on Daly and her England teammates. The St. John’s coaching trio will be in the stands at Stade Océane in Le Havre when England takes on Argentina on June 14. Two days later, they will be in Paris to see the United States take on Chile at Parc des Princes.
“It would be great to see Rachel play, but I’m quite sure Phil Neville (England’s head coach) is not too concerned that we are there,” Stone said through a laugh. “It’s not often you get to see one of your players play in a World Cup.”