Barely three months into her new job, LSU soccer coach Sian Hudson was recruiting in Spain when news of the coronavirus hit close to home.
That’s when Hudson, a native of Wales, learned that the mother of the American family that housed her upon her arrival in the United States was stricken with the virus and passed away in a West Coast-based nursing home.
“It definitely brought things back into perspective,” Hudson said in a recent interview.
Hudson was hired last December with the hopes of restoring an LSU women’s program that had experienced a rapid descent the previous season.
In January, she hired assistant coaches Laura Busby and Seb Furness. They embarked on the first of a scheduled five-game spring season that was cancelled by the Southeastern Conference in response to a worldwide coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s obviously a challenging time for everybody,” Hudson said. “You certainly want to be sensitive to the greater situation here and not just think about athletics. It’s certainly provided for some additional challenges coming into a program new and at an important time getting to know the girls on and off the field.
“Every program in the country and every coach across in sports is dealing with the same thing. The more important thing here is the health and safety of everybody and making sure we get control on this pandemic and everybody stays healthy.”
LSU hired Hudson from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs where she guided the Division II program to 52 wins and three straight trips to the NCAA tournament in her three seasons.
Moreover, Hudson led the Mountain Lions to the school’s first No. 1 ranking during the 2019 season in which they finished 19-2-0.
“I think LSU’s a special place,” said Hudson, who signed a five-year contract. “The rich history and culture of the athletic program in general is certainly something I don’t think anybody can look past. They won a football national championship in my first week on the job and look at the growth of beach volleyball.
“Just the sheer potential. The facilities and seeing the passion and support of the people in Louisiana for LSU is something I’m excited to be a part of. I’m certainly looking to build success within the soccer program so we can get that kind of support for our sport as well.”
Hudson is aware of the LSU’s soccer potential, revisiting the 14-year tenure of program architect Brian Lee, who led the Tigers to 143 wins and six NCAA tournament appearances.
LSU captured its first SEC tournament championship and advanced to the second round of the NCAA event before losing to USC, 2-0, in 2018.
Lee departed LSU for Rice and was replaced on an interim basis last season by former assistant Debbie Hensley, who went 3-12-3 overall and 1-7-2 in SEC play and wasn’t retained.
“Brian laid a great foundation,” Hudson said. “There was obvious instability last season with a temporary situation from a coaching perspective. What the team was able to accomplish in 2018 was fantastic and we have to look at that as something that we want to get back to as a program. We want to compete for SEC championships.”
She acknowledged trying to combine her efforts with her staff to develop a program that can enjoy sustained success.
“Right now, it’s about laying a foundation and laying a culture which is going to give us success over the long term and not just looking for an immediate fix,” Hudson said. “That’s the piece that our staff and I are invested in.
“I’m here on a long-term contract and while I like to win, I was able to turn the program around at UCCS, this is a bigger project on a bigger stage. I’d love to say we’re going to have the same instant success, but our focus is changing the things we do on a daily basis. I believe that’s what is going to lead to the long-term success of the program.”
Playing a significant role in program’s viability will be the ability to build a talented and deep roster through recruiting, which has been significantly hindered with the NCAA coronavirus edict of no on-campus recruiting and the LSU campus being restricted to only essential personnel.
LSU, which featured a 30-player roster with three seniors at the end of last season, lists 16 players on its current roster.
Junior forward Meghan Johnson of Baton Rouge is back after leading the team with three goals in 2018, but the Tigers are looking to sign a goalkeeper after redshirt junior Emma Grace Goldman (108 saves, 2 shutout) graduated.
“We’re looking to add a goalkeeper and some reinforcements in the center of the midfield,” Hudson said. “We didn’t score many goals last season (11), so we’re bringing in players that can help us in the final (attacking) third with creation and execution in goal-scoring opportunities.
“Our focus at the moment is on international players and the transfer portal. The majority of all of the good American players were committed years ago. We’re looking overseas and to potential transfers that might surface at the end of the spring season.”
Hudson believes that in the brief time she and her team were together, she was able to introduce such intangibles as an increased level of expectations and accountability, to the more realistic goal of altering the team’s style of play to that of a possession-based team for next season.
“I feel confident that we were able engrain some of our values as a coaching staff with regard to work ethic and accountability and the technical and tactical standards we’re looking for,” she said. “We started to integrate more of a family culture in the group where the players have more of a tight-knit chemistry.”
That became more evident in the team’s build up to its spring season where LSU opened with a 3-0 loss to Texas Tech on Feb. 29. The remainder of that schedule, which included home matches with Louisiana-Lafayette and Southern Mississippi, along with road trips to SEC foes Texas A&M and Ole Miss, were all cancelled.
“We had girls on our roster from overseas and tried to get them back into their home countries before borders closed,” Hudson said. “We’re doing what we can in terms of our communication. We check on them on an individual basis and make sure they’re doing OK. We continue to generate those relationships.
“But we look at life in general, that life can be short, and we never know what’s around the corner. This is a situation that nobody has anticipated. We just have to do the best that we can with it and make sure we’re doing what we’ve been asked to do in regard to social distancing and we’ll continue to recruit and prepare for the fall as best as we can.”