Sam Earley didn't have soccer in her college plans.
Though after a strong recruiting pitch from Iowa Central Community College coach Christiane Lessa, the 2014 East Marshall grad saw too good of an opportunity to turn down.
Earley signed her National Letter of Intent on May 23 to continue her soccer career with the Tritons this fall.
East Marshall’s Sam Earley, seated center, recently signed her National Letter of Intent to play soccer at Iowa Central. Pictured with Earley are her parents, Michele and Rick, Iowa Central coach Christiane Lessa, standing left, and South Tama/East Marshall girls’ soccer coach Bob McBain.
"I hadn't really thought about playing soccer in college because I didn't really know how to go towards it," said Earley, who was planning to attend Marshalltown Community College. "I went on a college visit and I really liked the place and the coach. It was kind of a set-in-stone deal then."
Lessa had a similarly strong first impression of Earley as well. The Triton coach saw Earley make 12 saves in a 1-0 loss to Oskaloosa on May 15 and came away believing the talented prospect still had a higher ceiling to reach.
"We thought she could develop very quickly," Lessa said. "She's going to be a great addition to the team and have an immediate effect. We've always had really good goalkeepers."
The four-year starter will join fellow Trojan Araceli Angel in Fort Dodge, along with Marshalltown's Lexi Vaughn and Sam Smith, both of whom she played with through the Marshalltown Area Soccer Club (MASC).
Joining some familiar friends on the pitch was another factor that contributed to Earley's decision along with an athletic scholarship that will cover the cost of her gloves, cleats and books.
Earley was South Tama County/East Marshall's primary keeper for her first three years before splitting duties with Hanna Keckler this season. Three times Earley ranked in Class 2A's top five in the state in saves including a standout sophomore season in which she spent every minute as goalie (1,388, 5th in 2A) and ranked third with 246 saves.
She leaves the Trojans with more than 4,035 minutes of experience in the net and 739 saves and that's after a senior year in which she spent much of the season outside of the net. STC/EM coach Bob McBain used the versatile athlete's skills at midfielder and defender this season as the Trojans improved to 4-15 after finishing 0-16 the year before.
"She's probably one of the better goalies in the state," McBain said. "Her stats probably don't show it as much as she's played a lot in the field this year.
"She understands the game very well and is the most experienced player on my team. I can play her anywhere."
Lessa plans to use Earley primarily in goal where she'll compete with sophomore Bruna Prates for the starting spot.
The Tritons finished 13-2-1 overall and 5-2-1 in the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference last year in Lessa's second season with the program. The NJCAA 12th-ranked Tritons concluded their season in the Region XI Championship game, where they were edged 1-0 by top-ranked Iowa Western.
Joining one of the nation's top programs is just one of the reasons to believe Earley will excel at the next level.
Picking up the game at the age of 5, Earley spent much of her career as goalkeeper and admitted her enthusiasm for the position wavered a bit. Though after fewer minutes in the net this season, the Trojan standout is excited to return.
"When I was younger, (goalie) was my favorite position, but I grew apart from it because I had played it so long," Earley said. "I just learned to love it again."
Another factor that will enhance Earley's return to the net is Triton assistant coach Kevin Schalk, who is the goalkeeper coach for the Des Moines Menace's Premier Development League team. Schalk also was the netminder on the United States' under-15, U-17 and U-21 teams and played professionally for the Charleston Battery.
Lessa is confident that Schalk's presence on the staff will be a critical aid in Earley's development.
"Any goalkeeper from Iowa is going to be jealous of what she's going to have," Lessa said. "(Sam) can go as far as she wants, I'm really excited to have her here.
"She wants it and she has a desire to keep improving. I can see her starting for us and being a huge part of the team's success."