December 26, 2012 10:24:55 PM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
Tiffany Huddleston doesn't think one is enough.
Initially, Huddleston thought she was going to help anchor the midfield for her senior season with the Starkville Academy girls soccer team. But things changed as the season progressed. Without the contributions of Sallie Kate Richardson and Payton Allen, coach Robert Gardner opted to utilize Huddleston in a variety of roles to give his inexperienced squad a better chance to be successful.
Huddleston didn't back down from the challenge, so what started as season with a singular perspective transformed into one that had myriad looks. Whether it was as a forward, a central midfielder, a flank midfielder, or as a defender, Huddleston handled all of her roles with the experience and poise of a team player.
"It was a gradual thing," Huddleston said of her move from one position to several. "It didn't come to me as a complete shock when he asked me to do it. I didn't stress about it or worry about. I had gotten experience in different places, and that was one of the things I was thankful for, to have had different perspectives at a early age. Being older, I was glad I was forced to play different positions because it helped me understand the game better and to get different perspectives."
For her accomplishments in a variety of roles this season, Huddleston is The Dispatch's Girls Soccer Player of the Year. The award is given to a Mississippi Association of Independent Schools student-athlete who plays the sport in the fall.
While some players might have chafed at the thought of changing positions in their final season, Huddleston embraced it. Huddleston said the movement from position to position only will help her as she continues preparations for next season and a spot on a Division I team. Huddleston already has given a verbal commitment to play soccer at Mississippi State University. She figures to make it official next year. Until then, Huddleston will direct the Starkville Academy girls basketball team on its quest to defend its district, Class AAA, and overall MAIS championships.
Gardner didn't hesitate to move Huddleston in part because he realized she had the experience and tactical and technical understanding of the game to handle the load. He acknowledged handling the different responsibilities was a challenge, but he credited Huddleston for stayed focused and providing a solid example. That leadership paid off when Huddleston and classmates Tiffany Evans and Jessica Dennis were named to the MAIS senior All-Star game.
"I thought she had a very good season," Gardner said. "The fact she played in several different roles for us shows her versatility. Obviously she is a top player. Her versatility is something that will benefit her long term, not only that but her leadership from any position. I think her ability to lead the team regardless of where she is on the field says a lot for her character and her commitment to the team."
Gardner said Starkville Academy, which lost to Pillow Academy in the first round of the Class AAA playoffs, built its game plan around Huddleston regardless of where she was on the field. He believes the example Huddleston set this season will filter throughout the program and show the returning players how they need to sacrifice for the betterment of the team, especially when they think they might be suited to play one position.
"Just because of her ability to move off the ball and to involve her teammates, I would have preferred to have played Tiffany as a forward," Gardner said. "She is very creative on the ball and is very creative off the ball. She also does quite well when she involves her teammates."
Huddleston agrees and said the transition wasn't difficult because she has a history of playing multiple positions. She credited younger players on the team for emerging and taking on bigger roles to help the team succeed. She also is confident those same players can take an even bigger step next season and, possibly, play a role similar to the one she played this season.
As for next season, Huddleston isn't sure where she will wind up. If she decides to play for new coach Aaron Gordon at MSU, she could wind up anywhere. But Huddleston's performance this season proved she is up for the job.
"I was just glad I was able to do that for the team," Huddleston said. "Who knows what I will play next year, but I will say this season was a very positive thing. It refreshed the mental aspect of the game and the physical perspective playing different positions."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.