The dramatic drop of LSU’s soccer program from the zenith of the Southeastern Conference in 2018 to the bottom of the league a year ago resulted in a change at the top.
LSU hired Sian Hudson away from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. The native of Wales directed the Division II program to unprecedented heights during her three seasons that included 52 victories, a No. 1 ranking and an NCAA Tournament bid in all of her seasons.
Hudson was hired in December, put together a staff a month later and looked forward to the first step in rebuilding LSU’s fortunes during the spring season when the coronavirus pandemic halted those plans in mid-March.
“We’re going into this with a lot of excitement and passion,” Hudson said. “The signs are really promising, but until we get that first game under our belt and see how we do in actual competition, it’s going to be tough to tell you this is the goal and objective.”
LSU will embark Saturday on a conference-only schedule consisting of eight matches which is expected to crown divisional champions during a postseason tournament Nov. 13-22 in Orange Beach, Ala.
Hudson said the Tigers will also play a spring schedule where she believes her West Division-based team will play teams exclusively from the East and eventually decide an overall champion.
“The team motto is to get better every day both individually with their technical ability, tactical understanding and collectively as a group in how we’re playing when we take the field,” Hudson said.
A year after obtaining program milestones such as an SEC Tournament championship and berth in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in ’18, LSU went through a late coaching change last season. The Tigers played under interim Debbie Hensley and posted a 3-12-3 overall record and 1-7-2 mark in conference play.
Hudson believes the LSU team she’s inheriting, including five players from the SEC tournament championship squad, is reinvigorated and ready to atone for last year’s disappointing season.
“They’re hungry to get back to the tournament and then fight to potentially repeat that,” she said.
Hudson and her staff did a masterful job of overhauling a roster despite recruiting restraints (no on-campus recruiting allowed) brought on by the COVID-19 health scare, which didn’t permit any on-campus recruiting. She added goal-scoring threats to boost an offense that generated 11 goals last year along with adding depth in both the midfield and goalkeeper.
Hudson signed 10 players, a combination of freshmen, junior college and transfers – to augment a roster becoming a more possession-based team operating through improved play in the midfield.
“We don’t have a big target forward where we can lump balls in the box and have somebody outjump and win things in the air,” Hudson said. “We have to be more creative in our approach and how we create chances around the (top of the) 18. You will see us create more chances in the offensive third of the field and hopefully convert them.”
Junior midfielder Wasila Diwura-Soale of Accra, Ghana is the team’s heralded newcomer after spending two years at Navarro (Texas) Junior College where she scored 30 goals and added 28 assists, earning first-team NJCAA honors both seasons. She spent a year at Lamar University last year where she a season-knee injury after four matches.
She also gained valuable experience in 2016 as a member of Ghana’s U20 World Cup team.
“She’s seen a lot of soccer across the world, not just in this country,” Hudson said. “She’s exciting to watch. She’s comfortable in and around the goal so I expect her to contribute with goals for us.”
Transfers junior forward Savannah Mills and sophomore goalkeeper Mollee Swift played under Hudson at Colorado-Colorado Springs. They are expected to have impacts in their first seasons at LSU.
Swift went 16-2-0 in goal, allowing 10 goals in her lone C-CS season, with 46 saves and six shutouts. She was named to All-Region second team and the Rocky Mountain Conference’s second team. She’s battling freshman Bella Zanotelli and redshirt freshman Grace McClennan for the Tigers starting goalkeeper’s spot.
Grace Haggerty is a defender who started 34 of 36 career games at Rhode Island. The junior transfer brings experience on the back line.
Junior forward Meghan Johnson of Baton Rouge’s St. Joseph’s Academy, the team’s leading returning scorer with three goals, moves to the midfield. She joins fellow returnees senior defender Chiara Ritchie-Williams and junior forward Tinaya Alexander. The three players were all part of LSU’s memorable SEC title run two years ago.
Sophomore defender Maya Gordon is also expected to help bolster the team’s back line, Hudson said.
LSU’s five-member freshman class, led by Zanotelli, is another source of optimism. Expect contributions from center-midfielder Jordan Johnson of Denver and forward Brooke Cutura of Slidell-Northshore, Louisiana’s Gatorade Player of the Year.
“It’s important that when we step out on the field that we fight for each other,” Hudson said. “The girls are starting to show they care deeply about each other. I think that will translate to how we play as one on the field.”
Sept. 19 at Arkansas 3 p.m. (SEC Network)
Sept. 22 home vs. Ole Miss 3 p.m. (SEC Network)
Oct. 3 home vs. Auburn, 7 p.m.
Oct. 11 at Mississippi State, 3 p.m. (SEC Network)
Oct. 16 at Missouri, 7 p.m.
Oct. 23 home vs. Alabama, 7 p.m.
Oct. 30 home vs. Vanderbilt, 7 p.m.
Nov. 6 at Texas A&M, 7 p.m.
Nov. 13-22 SEC Championships Orange Beach, Ala.