April 10, 2014 10:08:13 AM
Aaron Gordon likes the progress the Mississippi State women's soccer team has made in its spring season.
The second-year MSU head coach will like his 2014 team even better when he has all 19 of the freshmen in his recruiting class on campus.
Gordon will have to wait a few more months for that to happen, so he will have to make do with having three of them at 7 tonight when MSU closes its spring season with a match against Alabama at the MSU Soccer Field. Admission to the match is free. The match is the unofficial kickoff to the 29th-annual Super Bulldog Weekend, which will feature a variety of sports events, including a football scrimmage at noon Saturday, in Starkville.
"Our spring season this year was always going to be a bit of a challenge because of what our numbers situation is," Gordon said. "We were only going to have one or two subs if we could stay completely healthy, but we had lingering effects from the fall season and a couple of players had to tend to injuries and they were not able to play."
Morgan Ferrara, a 5-foot-10 forward from Tampa, Fla., and Ashliegh Badley, a 5-6 defender from Laurel, enrolled early at MSU and have been with the team through the spring season. Hannah Smith, a 5-7 forward from Dallas, also enrolled early, but she is recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament she suffered last fall. Gordon said her recovery has been going exceptionally well and that he expects her to be ready for the fall season, which will kick off in August with two exhibitions matches.
Until then, Gordon is mixing and matches pieces to get a better sense of what his returning players and the newcomers can do. He and his assistant coaches also are working with the players to build their individual skills. Given the quick turnaround from the beginning of the school year to the start of the college soccer season, Gordon won't have a lot of time to put things together, but he is excited about the Bulldogs' prospects after going 3-15 and 0-11 in the Southeastern Conference last season.
Gordon said Wednesday he wasn't sure what format MSU and Alabama would play. Due to the uncertainty with goalkeeper Meara Johnson, who Gordon said hadn't been medically cleared to return following a "knock" she took against Southeastern Louisiana, the teams might play a nine-vs.-nine match with multiple halves. The teams will play in the spring and an exhibition match in the fall because they won't play this season in the Southeastern Conference.
On Sunday, Ferrara scored two goals in a 3-2 victory against Georgia State. Ferrara was coming a March 30 effort in which she scored two goals and had an assist in a 4-3 loss to Southeastern Louisiana at Madison Central High School.
MSU also has a 1-0 victory against Northwestern State and a 2-1 loss to Samford.
Gordon said the decisions of Ferrara and Badley to enroll early at MSU likely saved the spring season for the Bulldogs because they likely wouldn't have had enough healthy players to field a side. He said both players have gained valuable experience and have shown they can be contributors this fall.
"Morgan has always been in her club career a natural goal scorer," Gordon said. "If you can get her the ball 35 yards out from goal she is going to find ways to create chances for herself or for her teammates. Going to the next level from club soccer to college soccer, the question was is it going to be able to translate? She has great feet, she can shoot with both feet, her service is fantastic, and she has size. When she plays to her strengths I think she will be very good for us.
"Ashleigh is a tremendous athlete who has very good feet and plays in the back. She is going to be a very good player for us. She is fast and gives us good distribution."
"In terms of growth, this has been a good spring for her," Gordon said. "Tiffany has gotten to train and to spend a lot of time doing individual work, where we break things down so the players know how they need to perform better. We have seen a lot of improvement. Her attitude has been great. The spring has given her an opportunity to work on her game in a more systematic approach to apply to her game."
Gordon said he also has seen growth from defender Shelby Jordon and Shannen Jainudeen, a senior who has moved from defender to forward. Gordon said the combination of Ferrara and Jainudeen, who is 5-11, has given the Bulldogs a potent one-two punch he hopes can help the team fill the void left by the graduation of Elisabeth Sullivan, the program's all-time leading scorer. Sullivan was drafted and made the roster of the Portland Thorns of the National Women's Soccer League.
Gordon said he also has seen improvement from sophomore Tiffany Huddleston, of Starkville Academy.
A year ago, Huddleston played in a variety of positions. This spring, she has even seen some time as goalkeeper and did well, Gordon said. Although he isn't sure where Huddleston will play this season, he said the spring training has paid big dividends. He hopes her fitness can move to the next level so she can make an even bigger impact on the team.
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.