Without seeing Zoe Fisher toe a soccer ball, Jason Spain knew she was worth recruiting.
Fisher, a native of Cambridgeshire, England, played for the respected Chelsea Ladies Football Club - an offshoot of the English Premier League franchise. She also was a member of the England Schoolgirls, a squad of the best prep players in the country.
"Anyone that's on that team is pretty high-quality," said Spain, the Minot State University women's soccer coach. "I only know a couple that have gone (Division II), and they're, like, All-Americans. And really, she's a couple misses away from probably being an All-American this year."
Minot State University sophomore forward Zoe Fisher, front, jockeys for position with a Concordia-St. Paul defender during a September match at Herb Parker Stadium.
Fisher, a sophomore forward, led the team in scoring last season despite not finding the net in the Beavers' first seven matches. This year, she leads MSU with nine goals and seven assists and is second in the conference in points.
Her play is a big reason why the Beavers (13-3-2 overall, 11-3-1 Northern Sun) were able to accomplish their goal of hosting a home Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference tournament match in their first season in the league. Fourth-seeded MSU plays No. 5 University of Mary at 5 p.m. today at Herb Parker Stadium.
The Beavers signed Fisher with the help of London-born assistant Sam Holmes, who worked his English contacts to see if any talented players wanted to attend college in America.
"I rang her (Chelsea) coach," Holmes said. "He told me the kind of player that she was. Anytime that I'm gonna sign an international player, I'm quite conscious of whether she's athletic enough to play over in America.
"If you've ever seen Zoe play, she's extremely quick and exactly what we needed. I'm very happy with her so far. I just knew (with) the standard that she played, she'd be a very good player for us."
It was a telephone-heavy recruitment, and Spain said Holmes' experience of coming to America to attend college and play soccer comforted Fisher. Holmes left London to play at Flager College (Fla.).
"There's a lot of adjusting to do as an 18-year-old kid and he's gone through it," Spain said. "I think that was a big part of Zoe's decision. Sam and I would get together on the phone and talk to her and just say, 'Look, I've already gone through this. I know how to get a cell phone. I know how to get insurance.' And those are probably high-stress things for a kid moving across the world."
U.S. soccer isn't a world apart from English soccer, but the games are different. It took Fisher some time to learn to play against bigger, more physical American players, Spain said.
After going scoreless for the Beavers' first seven games in 2011, Fisher netted 10 goals in the season's final nine games. She said her game suits the U.S. style of play.
"In England, they try to play more pretty football and they pass it around a lot, whereas here you chase the ball, pressure a lot more," Fisher said. "It's a lot faster pace of game and that's the sort of game I play. I like running around a lot. I used to get told off a lot in England for being out of my position, so being here, I enjoy it."
Fisher's dogged pursuit of the ball is one of the Beavers' most important offensive characteristics. Often, a midfielder or defender will play a long pass and let Fisher maneuver her way around an opponent to win the ball in a threatening area.
As well as she has adjusted to the American game, Fisher still has reservations about certain American cuisine.
"Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches - I'm not of fan of them," she said, grimacing. "(Americans) mix savory and sweet stuff together. Can't stand it."
Fisher's teammates have helped cushion her culture shock. She lives in the dorms at MSU with teammate and Minot native L'Tanya Flythe and said other teammates visit frequently.
"The team's great," Fisher said. "They're like my second family out here so that's brilliant how well we all get together. I really enjoy it."
As good as Fisher has been this season, she could have a scary number of goals the next two seasons if she improves her finishing. She has attempted 80 shots in 18 games this season and put 45 of those on goal - both totals nearly doubling those of sophomore Emilie Rebelo, who is second for MSU in both categories.
"Her confidence on the dribble right now is overwhelming," Spain said. "It's just on the shot. As long as she's confident, she scores."
Fisher has benefitted from the emergence of Rebelo (three goals) and junior forward Jamie MacFarlane (four goals). MacFarlane and Fisher make for a dangerous duo up front, using their speed and dribbling ability to get into creases and fire shots.
"Zoe and I are kind of the same striker ... because we like running at defenders and attacking a lot," MacFarlane said. "We're both very physical, but I think the thing that works well is she likes getting the ball and doing all the dirty, hard work, and then I'm more composed. I can get the ball and dribble, and I can take space and defenders and then just kind of play it off to her."
The Beavers lose goalkeeper Marie Torres and starting midfielders Lexy Kidd and Tara McPartland next season, but Fisher's running mates at forward will be back.
And -who knows? - maybe this England Schoolgirl can become an All-American.
"People forget that she's only a sophomore," Spain said. "Your approach to the game completely changes when you're a junior and senior than a freshman and sophomore. I think she'll be a terror her last two years."