Senior Carly Mauldin will help lead the Mississippi State soccer team in a pair of exhibition matches to open the season. Photo by: Blake Williams/MSU Athletic Media Relations
August 6, 2018 11:13:21 PM
STARKVILLE -- Carly Mauldin spent nearly all of the summer putting herself in uncomfortable situations.
It was an easy decision because Mauldin wanted to be at her best for her senior season with the Mississippi State women's soccer team.
That's why Mauldin opted to return to Southeast Michigan for the second-straight season and play for and train with Aaron City and the Women's Premier Soccer League's Motor City FC.
In addition to playing in eight matches in the independent league that features more than 100 teams from across the United States, Mauldin trained in the gym and on the field with Byrd five to six days a week.
Byrd believes all of that work has helped Mauldin develop greater confidence and a higher comfort level on the ball.
"She was way more willing to take a leadership role," Byrd said. "Our team had nine to 12 National Team players on it, and her comfort level showed in her ability to step up as a leader and to be vocal to get them going, to step up, to calm down, or to relax. She was doing that to players who supposedly played at a higher level."
As one of only five seniors on a team that features 14 freshmen, Mauldin will be counted on to play a key role when coach Tom Anagnost's second team at MSU kicks off the 2018 season at 7 p.m. Thursday with an exhibition match against Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin. MSU will conclude the three-day trip with a match at 8 p.m. Saturday against Marquette in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Mauldin, a 5-foot-5 midfielder from Laurel, said it was a lot more fun going back to Motor City FC this year. A year ago, she traveled north with former MSU teammate Mallory Eubanks to train and to get a taste of the next step in women's soccer in the United States. Mauldin immediately made an impression on Byrd. She solidified Byrd's thoughts with another three months of training this year. In that time, Byrd said Mauldin developed a louder voice, a greater presence, and greater poise on the ball. He said that wasn't surprising because he realized last year Mauldin had strong character and wasn't going to waste time when it came to soccer.
"Carly is one of those kids you want on your roster," Byrd said. "You want her on your team because she is an all-around great kid. Coming back this summer, her mentality had completely changed. The summer before she didn't know what she was getting into or what we did in the gym, on the field, or what we did fitness wise.
"This year, she came in with a different mind-set that I am ready. (She had a mind-set that) I know it is going to be hard, but I know it is going to get me where I want to be."
Byrd said there was nothing he threw at Mauldin that she wasn't ready to do. In fact, he said Mauldin and two other players from Florida State took it a step further and traveled three-and-a-half hours north of where they were staying to train with him while he spent a week on vacation with his family. Byrd said Mauldin and one of the FSU players stayed and ran, trained on the beach, and worked out on the field for four of the five days.
"It was unbelievable," said Byrd of the players' decision to get up at 5 a.m. the first morning and drive to meet him for a 9 a.m. training session that day. He said they also paid for their lodgings with their own money.
Maudlin didn't think twice about making the investment because she enjoyed Byrd's "technical" training. She said he is able to help players build their fitness while they get more comfortable with the ball at their feet.
Being with the team for a second year helped, too. Byrd said he and his assistant coach named Mauldin captain for three or four of the team's games.
Mauldin hopes to use everything she learned to help MSU build on a 9-5-4 season in 2017. She feels she is ready to help the newcomers understand the game better and see how serious the SEC really is.
Anagnost credited the senior-laden group of 2017 for setting the tone and for "killing" itself in training and in matches. He said those players finally got sick and tired and losing and helped the program take the first step to reversing its fortunes. Anagnost hopes Mauldin can use her louder voice and higher level of comfort on the ball to be that kind of senior for the 2018 squad.
"Carly is one of if not the best player on the team," Anagnost said. "I know she is going to be very impactful."
Mauldin has her sights set on a professional career, so she knows the importance of this season. She said she has talked to Eubanks, who is a member of the National Women's Soccer League's Washington Spirits, about what life is like for a professional women's soccer player in the United States.
"It is something I am looking to do," said Mauldin, who graduates in December and should be prepared for the annual NWSL draft in January 2019. "I just have to have a really good season. That will help me."
Byrd is confident Mauldin's ability to be more comfortable in the midfield will rub off on the Bulldogs.
"The two things she looked to do more of -- and we had kind of talked about -- was facing forward and not always playing backward and square and looking to score herself," Byrd said. "She was looking to create chances and to play more of a pressing ball in the attack. ... She was way more involved than just being a possession player. Last summer, she played extremely well, but I think 90 percent of her balls were played sideways or backward. This year she became way more involved in getting us to play forward."
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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