A Montana soccer team that will return seven of its top eight scorers in the fall just got a little more dangerous.
Karli Stone, a 5-foot-9 forward and one of Troy’s leading point-producers as a freshman and sophomore, will transfer from the Alabama school after the spring semester and join the Grizzlies in August as a junior.
It’s a return home to the Northwest region for the player from Eagle, Idaho, who starred for Boise’s FC Nova and had every program within a day’s drive begging for her signature on signing day two years ago.
But like her older sister — Sierra would play softball at Cornell — Stone didn’t want to be constrained by geography, and she had her parents’ full blessing to pursue every offer extended her way.
“Our parents always told us that college could be an opportunity to see different parts of the country,” said Stone, who also has a younger sister, Brookelynn.
“I didn’t want to stay in Idaho or the West. Once (Sierra) decided she wanted to go far away to college, I kind of wanted to do the same thing.”
A tournament in North Carolina as a freshman brought Stone’s talents to the attention of Stephanie Demake, then an assistant coach at Stetson, a school located in DeLand, Fla.
“I went and visited, but it was too small of a school for me,” said Stone, four times named all-state at Eagle High.
When Demake moved on to Troy a year later to join the new staff of first-year coach Jason Hamilton, she made Stone the same offer. This time Stone found what she was looking for.
“My parents wanted me to visit every school that offered me,” said Stone, who will remain a student at Troy through the end of the spring semester. “I came down here not knowing I would like it that much, but as soon as I was on campus, I knew it was what I wanted.”
There was some culture shock — particularly the humid weather and being able to wring a couple cups of sweat out of her gear after practice — but soccer was soccer.
Her first collegiate shot? The game-winning goal in the Trojans’ 1-0 home win over Jacksonville State, a one-touch finish on a cross in the 72nd minute.
She scored twice as a freshman and played well enough that she was elevated to starter the final three matches of the season.
But a month after the season, Hamilton, who led Troy to a three-year record of 37-20-5, accepted a position at Mississippi State, leaving Stone to play for Ged O’Connor, a coach she didn’t know and who didn’t recruit her.
“We got a new coach last spring, and the program kind of went in a different direction than what I wanted,” said Stone. “Thirteen girls have left, and a lot of those were my really good friends.”
She considered departing last spring but stuck it out and scored four goals and added a pair of assists in the fall as the Trojans finished third in the Sun Belt Conference.
But by Christmas she had made up her mind. She was going to seek out something new, something closer to home.
“I want my parents be able to drive to my games,” said Stone. “And Montana checked everything off my list.
“Being a transfer is almost a bigger decision than committing in the first place, because this is my last chance to pick the right school for me. There was a lot of thought that went into the decision.”
The turnover in head coach at Montana in late January gives Stone’s journey to Missoula a touch of irony. She left Troy because she ended up competing for a coach she hadn’t signed up to play for.
Now she’s committed to Montana, a program, at least for now, without a coach.
“It’s scary. I had a new coach come in the spring of my freshman year, and it wasn’t the best experience,” said Stone. “I went on a couple of other visits after (the news of coach Mark Plakorus’s non-renewal), but I knew Montana was where I wanted to go.
“I’m disappointed Mark won’t be my coach, but I’m excited to see who my coach will be the next two years.”
Stone will add a finisher’s mentality to a team that ranked second in the Big Sky Conference last season in shots but only seventh in goals.
Rising sophomore Alexa Coyle led Montana in both goals (4) and points (10) last fall as the Griz finished second in the Big Sky with a 5-2-3 league record.
Ellie Otteson, Janessa Fowler and Taryn Miller, all of whom will be seniors next season, were multiple-goal scorers last fall, as was rising sophomore Raye Burton.