The extra step: How freshman forward Lexi Fraley has been able to break through on a senior-heavy Ball State Soccer squad
While there are 11 seniors and three graduate students on the 2021 Ball State Soccer roster, one of the Cardinals' most integral players this season was a freshman.
Forward Lexi Fraley stepped into a key rotation role this season for the Cardinals, making the most of her time on the field. Despite not starting any of her 16 games played, Fraley scored a team-high four goals and ranked second on Ball State in points with eight. Her .235 shot percentage also ranked second on the team.
Fraley fell in love with the game at a very young age.
"I started playing in kindergarten, so I've played pretty much my whole life," Fraley said. "I played every sport growing up, but soccer was always my favorite."
Fraley spent her high school career playing club soccer for the Indy Premier Soccer Club and high school soccer for Harrison High School in Lafayette, Indiana, until she graduated this past spring. She set a school record for goals in a single season with a career-high 43 goals her senior season and ended her high school career with 110 goals, a Harrison program record.
Despite growing up less than 15 minutes away from Purdue University, Fraley said she was immediately enamored with Ball State. She committed to the Cardinals in April 2019 and stuck with her commitment when head coach Josh Rife was hired the following June.
"I love the campus and the girls here and especially the coaching staff," Fraley said. "They also had my major [pre-dentistry], so it really had everything I wanted here pretty close to home."
Even though she had a stellar soccer resume coming out of high school, Fraley said, she still had to work to make her way into the Cardinals' lineup once she arrived at Ball State. She said she immediately recognized the differences between high school and collegiate soccer and had to stay positive throughout the experience.
"It was definitely a big jump - really different, a whole different environment, but it's a good difference," Fraley said. "It's exciting, and it's fun."
Fraley may be the shortest player on the Cardinals, standing at only 5 feet, 2 inches tall, but Rife said she uses her height to her advantage.
"Her nickname is 'Squirt,' but don't let her size fool you," Rife said. "She battles hard - she's tough [and] pretty persistent. She just goes and goes and goes and isn't afraid of a tackle. I think that's a lot of what helps her create opportunities for herself. She is going to have to go after it a little bit differently than other players."
Fraley tallied her first career goal in a Ball State uniform Oct. 3 against Akron, putting the ball in the back of the net with her left foot against Akron to go up 2-1. Just a minute and a half later, Fraley scored again, going one-on-one with the Zips' goalkeeper to help seal a 3-1 Cardinals' victory.
"I remember when she went in against Akron, and she didn't get a goal before halftime," assistant coach Hannah Sullivan said. "I told her, 'I know you're about to score - you've just got to keep working, keep working, keep working.' Then, she got one, and then, she got the other. And, I said, 'I freaking told you - I told you you were going to get a goal.' She's just so driven. When she puts her mind to something, she does it automatically."
With the performance, Fraley was named the Mid-American Conference Offensive Player of the Week Oct. 5. Fraley was also selected to the MAC All-Freshman Team Nov. 4. Sullivan said a big reason Fraley has made it onto the pitch this season is the drive she and the Cardinals' coaches see from her every day.
"She's constantly in the weight room, always doing extra work," Sullivan said. "She's here after practice all the time. Her loyalty to this team and wanting to get better just really [helps] the team."
Even though she's a freshman, Rife said Fraley has become a key part of the Cardinals, and her personality has made her teammates and coaches gravitate toward her.
"[She's] a bubbly kid, always in a pretty good mood, pretty friendly," Rife said. "A super smart kid, too, but she's a genuine, caring kid. She's a great addition to what we already had."
With the veteran leadership the Cardinals possess, Fraley has jumped at the opportunity to learn from Ball State's more experienced players.
"It's exciting to be able to play with this team, especially with a lot of seniors and upperclassmen that have been playing at this level for a long time," Fraley said. "So, it's just really good that I've been able to get to learn from them and get to play with them."