Rachel Engle joined the recruiting process later than most, didn’t know what she wanted to major in and thought about transferring before settling in at McDaniel College.
McDaniel, roughly 30 miles northwest of Baltimore, was one of the many schools that Engle was open to playing for because if there was one thing that she knew it was that she wanted to continue her soccer career.
Prior to arriving at McDaniel, Engle was the Elizabethtown girls soccer captain and also played club soccer for Penn Legacy. The team won the section title during her junior year and she said that the team finished third in the state her senior season. She spoke highly of her time playing at Elizabethtown.
“Overall, I think it was a great experience. I think the program was growing when I was there. I loved school ball. I got to play with my cousin [Elise Forry] and I miss high school ball,” Engle said.
She was coached by current Elizabethtown girls soccer coach Keith Renner during her senior season. He described her as a quiet captain that was more likely to lead with her actions rather than her words.
“She was always one to come to our optional practice sessions. She had a natural leadership ability and would lead quietly, but when she wanted or demanded something, the girls would listen,” Renner said.
Engle was exchanging emails with McDaniel coach Sandy Lagana throughout her senior season in an attempt to find out if she and the school were a match.
Lagana said that she saw Engle playing for Penn Legacy and received multiple invitations from Engle to come watch her play. Lagana obliged and began to study her style and fit on the field.
“We watch recruits a lot before we offer them a roster spot and we watched her a lot. We found out that she was wonderful when handling criticism and responsive to criticism. That generally means they will be productive because they can handle coaching. The fall of her senior year we wanted to see her make some changes because we need to be able to envision you in our system,” Lagana said.
One asset that Engle possesses is her size. She is listed as 5-foot-8 and Lagana acknowledged that being a strong, tall and athletic player was something that interested her and her staff.
“She was one that we wanted to keep watching. If she were smaller that might not have been the case,” Lagana said.
Engle made the changes that the McDaniel coaching staff was hoping to see and eventually brought her size and skill set to the college.
“Once I started talking with her [Lagana] I knew she was a younger female that was determined to make the program skyrocket. It is also a great athletic and academic conference,” Engle said.
Engle played midfield for Elizabethtown, but began her McDaniel career trying to find a position that she could call home. She was listed as a midfielder and defender with no well-defined role on the team. She appeared in 14 games, but did not record a start in their 15-3-2 season.
The following spring of her freshman year was a turning point in the eyes of both Engle and Lagana.
“Spring season is when the hard work comes in. There are no games and it’s just training and fitness. Sophomore year I wanted to have a clean slate. Freshman year I thought about transferring, but I knew I would be leaving a program with so much potential,” Engle said.
Lagana has her student-athletes write down their strengths and weaknesses when spring rolls around and said that she particularly remembers what Engle wrote down.
“She wrote that she can be unapologetically herself. That’s one of the strongest things she brings. You can be yourself and don’t have to conform. You can be exactly who you are. For a 20-year-old to recognize that and be a confident young woman really sticks out,” Lagana said.
“It’s so important to understand how mature she is in terms of being OK with herself. She just beats to her own drum all the time. I look up to her for that. She can be herself, be confident and stand for something good. Rachel is a student, person and athlete that is made up of the good stuff. I’m lucky that she’s in my life. She and her family are just a joy to be around.”
With growing confidence and a solidified role on the team (she was only listed as a defender), Engle was prepared to earn more playing time in her sophomore season.
She appeared in all 22 games and started 18 of them. The team went 18-3-1 and set Centennial Conference records along the way.
The team had 13 shutouts on the season, including nine in a row which broke the previous conference record. The streak spanned 838 minutes and nine seconds. Overall, the team was No. 30 in the nation in goals-against-average (0.58). Engle, however, said that the streak snuck up on them and wasn’t something that they were focusing on as it approached.
“It was effortless because our back line works together so well. It was like, ‘Oh, I guess we haven’t been scored on in a while and we can break this record.’ Being a part of something that successful is awesome,” Engle said.
The perseverance that Engle showed while trying to settle into a position is another feature that stuck out to Lagana.
“We use her story when we do ID clinics to show that you can’t give up on yourself right away because Rachel stuck with it. You have to have that to be good on or off the field,” Lagana said.
The 2017 McDaniel campaign will begin on Friday, Sept. 1, against William Smith. Engle, now a junior, will be asked to teach underclassmen the rigors of a collegiate season.
“This will be a different type of season. We lost good players to graduation and have a big freshman class. I want to guide them and ease them into our program, but I think all of us would like to win the conference,” Engle said.