When University of Colorado at Colorado Springs’ Sian Hudson was named LSU’s soccer coach last December, UCCS teammates Savannah Mills and Mollee Swift eventually knew one thing.
They wanted to be wherever Hudson was coaching, which meant them trading Rocky Mountain scenery and snow for bayous and steamy humidity as they transferred to LSU.
“For me she’s been 10 times more than just a coach,” said Mills, a junior, who’s averaged 27 minutes of playing time in three of LSU’s four matches this season. “She’s taught me more about my life and taught me more about myself than anyone has. When I tell people, you can get on a deeper level with her. She wants to get on a deeper level with you because she cares about you a lot as a person. As a player, that’s important.”
Swift, a sophomore goalkeeper, feels the same way.
“I didn’t want to stop playing for her (Hudson),” said Swift, who has recorded 14 saves in three starts for the Tigers (0-3-1) as they host SEC foe Alabama (1-3-1) on Friday at 7 p.m. “She’s such an important leader and she truly brings a team together. Seeing how she believed in me was important to my decision to follow her.”
Hudson built UCCS into a Division II force, transforming from a three-win team the year into an annual NCAA Tournament participant.
When she arrived at LSU, Hudson hit the ground running. She put together her coaching staff before the coronavirus pandemic hit. The subsequent shutdown by the NCAA of any on-campus and in-person recruiting presented a first-year huge challenge in rebuilding the Tigers’ roster.
So, she was more than happy to pick up some familiar faces.
Mills scored 16 goals with five assists with 19 starts in 33 UCCS matches under Hudson. When Hudson left for LSU, Mills didn’t know if she wanted to keep playing soccer or not. She didn’t think she had the option of playing at a Division 1 until Hudson contacted her 10 minutes after she put her name in the NCAA transfer portal.
“She’s incredibly athletic and tenacious, a competitor in everything that she does,” Hudson said of Mills, who recorded 16 goals (including three game winners) at UCCS.. “She offers a lot of attacking talent and excitement when we get into the final (offensive) third.”
Mills, who’s from Highlands Ranch, Colo., where she was a part of a Class 5A state championship at Mountain Vista High, loved playing 60 miles from her hometown at UCCS.
As much as she likes playing for Hudson, Mills needed convincing and reassurance to leave behind the security blanket that came with being an hour from home, and around her family, to travel 1,200 miles to Baton Rouge.
Both of her parents played a large role in helping Mills embrace LSU after they all spent time on a teleconference with Hudson who then took the family on a virtual tour of the campus and soccer facilities.
Even for a close-knit family that had never been spread apart very far before, Mills received their endorsement and signed with LSU on May 17 and has played in a reserve role thus far.
“I’ve actually never been more than an hour away from my family,” Mills said. “That was one of the hardest parts of my decision. I was so scared to leave my family and be far away but I’m glad I did it. I think I needed to get outside of Colorado to experience more of the world.”
Without any returning goalkeeping experience for LSU, Hudson targeted the 5-foot-9 Swift who finished with a save percentage of 82.1 after stopping 46 of 125 shots to go along with six shutouts in 1,494 minutes played at UCCS.
“She’s exceptional with her feet,” Hudson said. “She has a huge presence in terms of the way she controls her backline.”
The thought of playing for LSU had never entered Swift’s mind. Her initial impression of the school’s athletic programs had been shaped when the native of Papillion, Neb. made the 15-mile trek to Omaha to experience the College Baseball World Series where the Tigers have long been fixtures.
“I grew up and saw LSU fans tailgating at the College World Series,” she said. “That was the biggest way that I knew the name LSU was through the tailgating and seeing everybody coming together. The food always smelled delicious.”
Swift’s appetite to play at the Division I level had also increased and with Hudson now at LSU, the relationship proved strong enough to convince her through a virtual tour of the school and soccer facilities that Baton Rouge would be a great landing spot.
Swift, who last season ranked among Division II’s top goalies in average goals allowed per game (0.60) and had a 16-2 record in her 18 starts, couldn’t wait to be reunited with Hudson.
“I kind of took a leap of faith and hoped for the best,” Swift said. “Sian’s a very special coach. She understands everybody on a deeper level than what they bring to the soccer field.”