Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Podojil starring in first of 2 sports at Arkansas
Arkansas freshman Anna Podojil is shown during a game against Vanderbilt on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE Anna Podojil rewrote the record books as a high schooler, recording 117 goals and 51 assists during a prolific career at Indian Hill High School in Cincinnati.
She scored 28 goals as a senior despite undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL the summer before. As a senior, she scored 10 goals in seven postseason games that culminated with her team’s second consecutive state championship. She was named the Ohio Gatorade Player of the Year as a junior and senior.
If the first half of her freshman season is any indication of future success, Podojil is on her way to a memorable college career, too.
No. 13 Arkansas at LSU
WHEN 6 p.m.
WHERE LSU Soccer Stadium, Baton Rouge, La.
RECORDS Arkansas 9-2-1, 3-1-0 SEC; LSU 2-8-2, 0-3-1 SEC
TV SEC Network
NOTEWORTHY Arkansas' past eight victories have been by shutout. The Razorbacks have allowed two goals in regulation this season.... LSU won the SEC Tournament championship game last season by defeating Arkansas 4-1 in penalty kicks.... The Razorbacks are unbeaten in their past three games at LSU.
Entering No. 13 Arkansas' game at LSU on Thursday, Podojil is tied with Parker Goins for the team lead with six goals, and with five assists is one point shy (17) of Goins for the team lead in scoring.
All of Podojil's six goals came in the first nine games, including goals in four consecutive games against McNeese State, Baylor, North Carolina and Alabama. She was named SEC freshman of the week three times in the first five weeks of the season.
When Podojil scored to put the Razorbacks ahead 1-0 over then-No. 1 North Carolina, ESPNU announcer Jordi Angeli emphatically declared, “Podojil! The prodigy!”
She followed that performance up with an early goal against Alabama that was the only score in the Razorbacks’ 1-0 victory in their conference opener. She had a game-winning assist to Goins in a 1-0 victory over Vanderbilt the following game.
“It was a transition coming in for me because I didn’t play club soccer my senior year of high school,” Podojil said. “My teammates have been pushing me and the coaches have helped a lot, and it’s going really well so far.”
Podojil has added another goal-scoring threat to a team that already had several with the likes of Goins, Stefani Doyle, Tori Cannata and Taylor Malham. The Razorbacks (9-2-1, 3-1 SEC) lead the conference at 2.67 goals per game.
“She stepped into a program where there are four other talented, attacking players,” Arkansas soccer coach Colby Hale said. “This would be like a wide receiver coming onto a football team with four All-SEC wide receivers in front of them.”
Like a great SEC wide receiver, Podojil is often the fastest player on the field. The daughter of two former track athletes at Miami (Ohio), Podojil also plans to sprint for the Razorbacks’ track and field team when the soccer season ends.
Podojil, who lived in Bentonville until her sixth-grade year in 2012, committed to play soccer for the Razorbacks following her freshman year of high school in Cincinnati. Sometime later, Hale mentioned to Arkansas track and field coach Lance Harter that he had a soccer player committed who was also a blossoming track standout. Harter was delighted when he learned more about Podojil.
“He was like, ‘Holy cow, that’s the kid that’s coming?’” Hale said.
With limited formal training, Podojil ran the 400 meters in 53.67 seconds as a senior and won a state championship in Ohio, a state that Harter called one of the nation’s most competitive in the sport. By comparison, 51.17 seconds was the nation’s fastest 400-meter time by a high school female last year.
“She’s not far off from being one of the best of the best,” Harter said. “The speed she shows on the soccer field is just reconfirmation that this kid is the real deal.”
Harter, who was on the search committee that recommended Hale’s hiring at Arkansas, said speedy players like Podojil have been at the center of the Razorbacks’ growth as a soccer program.
“He has an eye for talent and he knows that speed is the great neutralizer for programs,” said Harter, whose daughter Alison played college soccer at Arkansas. “He’s definitely assembling people with great athletic ability and raw speed, and every year his teams continue to get better.”
Podojil is among the most heralded recruits Hale has swayed to Arkansas, although she said she didn’t need much convincing. She and her younger sister Ellie, who is also committed to play soccer for the Razorbacks, attended Arkansas’ home games while growing up in Bentonville.
Anna Podojil had plenty of college options. As an invitee to train with the U.S. Under-18 national team, she had a who’s who of soccer programs offer scholarships, and as her track prowess grew she became a recruit in that sport, too. She estimates she went on 20 recruiting visits to college campuses.
“She has definitely got the gift,” Harter said. “I think Anna is truly special and it’s exciting. As long as she continues to develop and stay healthy, my gosh, you never know what this could evolve into.”
Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.