This is your first year at Mississippi State. What are your expectations from your returning players after watching them play in spring ball?
"When you take over a program you don't really know what you have until you are able to work with your kids on a day-in, day-out basis. The spring is really the opportunity to develop players and set goals and expectations for each individual. One of our first tasks was to figure out what kind of work ethic do we have and what kind of training program do we have. During our spring we had a limited roster, which is normally the case. We had 8 seniors graduate. What we did during the spring is train hard. And by training hard our returning players got an idea what to expect from this staff, how to train and how to live the life of a college athlete.
"I feel we saw a significant improvement in their overall strength and conditioning and new standards set by them, new standards in the weight room, new standards out on the soccer field.
"In the spring everybody got to play because we only had 12 players. They were all happy because they were getting playing time. And that was good because we got to see our players. We got to play five games. We played some opponents that were tough and some that weren't so tough. Really, I guess you could say they were all tough because we didn't have the numbers (of players). I really think the spring set a tone for us to have a successful fall season.
"I didn't know this but it turned out it was the first time for (MSU soccer) to go undefeated in the spring. The wins and losses in the spring really don't mean anything but for a program that has never gone undefeated it was a good first step that would allow us to have the type winning mentality to be successful in the fall.
"We have four seniors on our team, Morganne Grimes, Elisabeth Sullivan, Sasha Vrany and C.J. Winship.
"It was good (for the staff) to see how Morganne Grimes, the captain of our team, works every day. She came back after surgery after the season. Her effort to get back on the field so she could play in all five games was great to see. I thought right away this was a kid who was begging to have the type senior season she can be proud of. She has completely bought into what we are trying to accomplish here, which is not just living the life of a soccer player three months of the year but 12 months of the year. That means I have to look for ways to improve during the off-season. And she has really embraced that.
"I think with her and Elisabeth Sullivan, who is the other senior, we have seniors who have bought into what we are trying to do here. Elisabeth has had a tremendous career her. And we may look back at the end of the season and see that she may have been the best player to ever play here.
"C.J. is the goalkeeper on our team. This spring she played every minute in the spring. And she had a productive spring. She was the number two goalkeeper last season. This season, she comes in fighting for the number 1 spot.
"What I like about all four of our seniors is they see that we have a chance to take that next step this year. And they are all providing the leadership and setting examples everyday. That's all I could hope for from them."
Were there any underclassmen that really stepped forward in the spring?
"All of the players made significant improvement from the time we got here in January until we finished in April. Everyone bought in. But two players, in particular, that I thought did really well were Shannon Jainudeen, a Canadian, and Shelby Jordan, a sophomore. I feel Shannon, a junior this year, will be one of the future leaders on this team and I feel that Shelby was one of our outstanding freshmen last year, Shelby has gotten better every day in every part of her game. She will definitely be someone that we will look to to build around because she sets an example every day in practices and in games. Those two, for me, really did a good job. But it was really a team effort in the spring because I thought everybody contributed."
You have a lot of freshmen on your roster, 10 to be exact.
"We do. Of the ten, six were signed by the previous staff and four by us. We did go out and look at them just so we would be able to get to know them a little bit. I think they all bring talent to the table, but at the same time you are bringing experience. Sometimes with freshmen it's better what they don't know but at the same time that can hurt you as well. Freshmen are always a mixed bag. Sometimes freshmen will completely surprise you in the transition from coming from high school to going to college ball. Some make it instantly while some others may take a couple of games. What I do expect from our freshmen is for all of them to contribute, we expect them all to play a role for the success of our season."
Are there any of your freshmen who you feel could come in and contribute significantly their first year?
"That is a good question. I wish I could see all of our freshmen right now but I can't do anything with them right now. That is a tough one to answer but based on what I know, Kayla Puzas is one who comes to mind. She plays for a great club, the Concorde Fire. Her club coach is a friend of mine and I know what his standards and expectations are for the teams he develops. I know the environment that she played in lends itself for a smooth transition. I know from watching her play she is physically able to play and a girl ready to go to college right now.
"I also think that Tiffany Huddleston, a local girl from here in Starkville, is physically prepared to play in college right away. I think that she is capable.
"I also think that Annebel ten Broeke is has the ability to do well. But she is coming from a different environment in Holland where the game is a lot more technical and also from a weather standpoint. She's having to adjust to the weather. The high temperature in Amsterdam is about 85 degrees with no humidity."
You've been here for about six months. What are some things you are doing to help the program become successful?
"We are trying to change the culture of a program that has limited success and limited real soccer history to one that will be exciting and a winning program. I feel we have one chance to that. I had an opportunity to come in in the spring and work with the returning players. They know what that culture is about and they have the chance to help this program become that culture. The incoming freshmen don't know about that culture. The returning players have the opportunity to lead the culture that we we are trying to build."
Part of that culture is teaching your players that this is a 12 month job, not just an in-season job.
"It is year round. During the summer we are trying to place some of our girls with women's teams that are playing in some of these national leagues. Those leagues are regionally based and nationally based. We had a couple of kids playing on those teams this summer. We want that because our competitors are already doing that. The other kids who are here are working out and also playing pickup soccer games three times a week. They had never done that before. They just showed up and did strength and conditioning. They didn't play games.
"My message when I got here is we couldn't just prepare two weeks before the season and play a season from August to October and hope to accomplish what we want to accomplish. For this team, the first step is to be in the SEC Tournament. That is very possible. When you look at what it takes to get into the SEC Tournament, traditionally, you have to have about 11 to 12 points. That is three wins and 2 ties or four wins. We aren't that far away from taking that step, but we will never take that step if we don't work at it in a way that enables you to be prepared and successful.
"When I get to see our players now they look like they are now physically able to play, which is exciting."
How many of your players were able to attend classes during the summer and work out?
"We had four (freshmen) who didn't graduate until the middle of the first session of summer school. We did have one freshman, Tiffany (Huddleston) who did attend summer session one. That allowed her to work out with our strength and conditioning coach. Now she's more prepared. I think there were about seven people in summer session one. But in the second summer session everybody was here. Then they started organizing games. I think that is typical of most top soccer programs, they have about a third of their team in the first summer session and all of them in the second summer session."
What are your thoughts about this year's schedule?
"I inherited the schedule. I feel the schedule really provides an opportunity for some successes, especially for a young team. When you have 10 freshmen the last thing you want to do is have a schedule that stresses them in every area. Everything is going to be new to them. The SEC schedule is brutal already.
"Our pre-season game with South Florida is one that I scheduled. It's probably our toughest non-conference game. They are normally a team that is top 50 to top 60 in the country. It will be a really good gauge for us because it will show where we are, how we prepare, what our expectations are."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.