September 25, 2013 10:35:06 PM
STARKVILLE -- Annebel ten Broeke knew she had an adjustment to make when she left her home in the Netherlands to play soccer in the United States.
At 5-foot-11, ten Broeke didn't fully grasp the physicality of the women's college game in the U.S. until she first trained with her new teammates. Those initial sessions convinced ten Broeke she needed to work on her game if she was going to be able to contribute to the Mississippi State women's soccer team.
Although ten Broeke said the transition is still taking place, she has made an impact on the program in her first eight games. Not only is the freshman forward/midfielder one of the Southeastern Conference leaders in assists, she also has played an integral role in helping senior teammate Elisabeth Sullivan continue her record-setting scoring pace.
"I think just playing games with them helps me develop my game and to develop a relationship with the other players," ten Broeke said. "It helps them know how they can find me and it shows me how they want the ball."
MSU (3-5) lost to Missouri 3-1 last Friday in its Southeastern Conference opener. It will travel this weekend to play Texas A&M (Friday) and LSU (Sunday). It will return home to play host to Kentucky at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 4.
Each road trip will be a new experience for ten Broeke, who has started all eight games and is fourth on the team in minutes played (572). She is looking forward to each opportunity because she knows the experience will help make her a better player.
In the Netherlands, ten Broeke was selected to numerous youth national team camps and was invited to the country's Under-19 National Team training camp. She also played in two games for the Netherlands' National Team when she was 15. Her goal is to be selected to represent her country on the National team.
MSU first-year head coach Aaron Gordon considers ten Broeke a "late bloomer" and feels he is fortunate to have such a talented player in his program. He hopes she will be someone he can build the program around as he moves forward in making MSU more competitive in the SEC and nationally.
"That was always going to be the challenge for Annebel, coming here and having to deal with an in-your-face mentality, and that is our mentality for women's soccer here," Gordon said. "She comes from a country that is known for its tactical players and, certainly, its technical players. ... She has adapted to what we have tried to do in terms of pressing as a team and being physical."
Gordon, the former assistant and associate head women's soccer coach at Texas Tech, learned about ten Broeke from a tennis coach at Texas Tech. He said the coach told him about someone he knew who had a contact for some players and gave Gordon a phone number. After going through the interview process at MSU and getting the job, Gordon thought he should call the contact. From there, he emailed ten Broeke and arranged for a conversation on Skype, a phone call on the Internet that allows you to see the person you're talking to. He said they stayed in contact and eventually he went to the Netherlands for a home visit to put the finishing touches on adding her to the program.
Gordon didn't think ten Broeke realized the physically of the U.S. women's college game until three games into the season. Once she did, Gordon said ten Broeke adapted and is ahead of schedule. In fact, he said she "gets better every day."
The next step, Gordon said, is getting ten Broeke's teammates to understand how she plays the game and what she can do for the team. Gordon said Sullivan has been the fastest to connect with ten Broeke in part because she has figured out ten Broeke will deliver the ball if she moves. Five of ten Broeke's six assists are to Sullivan, who has a team-leading nine goals. She assisted on all three of Sullivan's goals in a 4-2 victory against Jackson State.
"The first few games we struggled a little bit trying to get the chemistry down," said Sullivan, who earlier this season became the program's all-time leading scorer. "It has really progressed and gotten a lot better."
Sullivan said two of ten Broeke's strengths are vision and passing. She said ten Broeke has learned she can use her speed to get past the highest defender, so all she has to do is anticipate that and lead her into space. The combination has worked so well that Sullivan has 19 points, which is third in the SEC.
ten Broeke hasn't done too badly for herself, either. In addition to the six assists, which is second in the SEC, she has three goals, including game-winners against Arkansas State and Jackson State.
"I think she has done really well adjusting," Sullivan said. "It was really hard in our first game because it is so much more physical, but I think she has done really well getting used to it. She knows the SEC will be just like that plus more."
Gordon hopes the Bulldogs will realize what they have to do and how they have to position themselves to utilize ten Broeke's abilities to make themselves better, which he feels will make the team better.
"The things she does off the ball are high level and there are nuances to her game that just aren't seen, so we have to continue to bring those up and show them in video," Gordon said. "It is not like an 'Oh wow movement,' it is just like that is really good."
Gordon said ten Broeke is subtle in the sense she knows she isn't the fastest player, so she will position herself off the back shoulder of a player and then flash in front to keep the defender looking one way to create time and space for herself. He said ten Broeke developed that from watching a lot of soccer and from training at a very early age.
But all of that soccer did little to prepare ten Broeke for her initial training sessions in the U.S. She said she still needs to improve on her overall physical fitness and strength and play faster because pressure on the player with the ball is nearly always a constant in the U.S. women's college game. She feels her tactical and technical background has helped make her adjustment even easier. As she becomes stronger, she feels she will settle in even more as she develops a better feel for her teammates and the speed of the game.
"I think I am doing OK," ten Broeke said. "I always feel I can improve. I always want to do better. Now players know I want the ball at my feet, which is a big improvement. I think other players will help me improve because they know how I want the ball and they know I want to slip the ball in between instead of playing the ball to their feet.
"Sully takes off when I get the ball. That is what I want. I want to have the ball and play it in between. Our chemistry is getting better every game."
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.