STARKVILLE, Miss. - Mississippi State soccer coach Aaron Gordon inked six standouts to his inaugural signing class.
The newest Bulldogs include a pair of Mississippi standouts in Tupelo midfielder Abby Phillips and local product Tiffany Huddleston; New Jersey forward/defender Chelsi Bender; Florida defender Savannah Boswell; top Canadian goalkeeper Meara Johnson and Georgia forward/midfielder Kayla Puzas.
"One of the biggest challenges when taking over a program is delivering a great recruiting class, so that is why we are so excited about our 2013 class. We were able to address specific needs that will ensure the future success of our program," Gordon said. "The enthusiasm our staff has received since arriving in Starkville has been awesome, and this class is a representation of that enthusiasm. These six players come from great high school and club backgrounds, and we can't wait to get them on our campus and start working with them. All of these players have a chance to make an immediate impact this fall."
Chelsi Bender - F/D; 5-0; Freehold, N.J. (Freehold HS/New Jersey Wildcats)
High School/Club: Four-year letterwinner for Freehold High School... Helped the Colonials to back-to-back B-North championships in 2011 and 2012... Led the team to an undefeated record in 2012 as part of a defensive line that surrendered just six goals on the season... Guided Freehold to the All-Shore finals and state sectional quarterfinals in 2012... Second team All-Monmouth County selection from the Star Ledger after her senior season... One of three defenders tabbed to the 2012 All-Freehold Regional District Team... Also claimed Second Team All-Shore and Coaches' All-Division team accolades from the Asbury Park Press... Played club soccer for the New Jersey Wildcats and coach Kevin McDermott... Helped the Wildcats to five tournament titles, including the US Club Soccer state championship... Part of her club's 2011-12 Rider Cup championship squads... Won back-to-back USYSA New Jersey National State Cup championships in 2008 and 2009... Also won the 2008 U.S. Club Soccer national championship with the Freehold Lady Strikers U13... Went to the U.S. Club Soccer Regionals in 2007 after winning the region A, state and league titles... Went to back-to-back USYSA State Cup semifinals in 2005 and 2006.
Personal: Born June 23, 1995, in Toms River, N.J... Daughter of Derrick and Tinette Bender... Has four siblings: Alexis Cody, Derrick, Dominique and Laila.
Savannah Boswell - D; 5-5; Niceville, Fla. (Niceville HS/FC Dallas Emerald Coast)
High School/Club: An All Sports Association/Northwest Florida Daily News All-Area selection in soccer and track and field each year of her career... Named the All Sports Association of Northwest Florida Scholastic Athlete of the Year as a senior... Capped her prep career by guiding Michael Denton's Niceville squad to the Elite Eight of Class 4A state tournament... Helped the Eagles to a third-straight district title and a second-straight appearance in the region semifinals... Won the Founder's Award, presented to the NHS Most Valuable Player, following her junior campaign... Claimed the 2011 Elton Cooke Leadership Award following a 2011 season that saw her help Niceville to the region quarterfinals... Part of Niceville's 2010 district runner-up and region semifinalist squad during her first prep season... Also been a standout on the track for the Eagles, earning all-area accolades the past three seasons... Won the 2010 USA Track & Field - Florida heptathlon and finished runner-up in the event at the Florida AAU championship meet, both National Junior Olympics qualifiers... Selected for induction into the Niceville High School Hall of Fame... Three-time captain on the pitch for Greg DeVito's FC Dallas Emerald Coast club team.
Personal: Born Feb. 8, 1995, in Ft. Walton Beach, Fla... Daughter of Steve and Lawnene Boswell... Has a brother, Jimmy, who played baseball at the University of West Florida.
Tiffany Huddleston - M/F/D; 5-8; Starkville, Miss. (Starkville Academy/Chicago Fire Juniors of Mississippi '95)
High School/Club: Standout on the soccer field, basketball court and track for Starkville Academy... Selected the Commercial Dispatch Girls Soccer Player of the Year after guiding the Lady Volunteers to the first round of the MAIS Class AAA playoffs... Tabbed to the MAIS Senior All-Star Game to cap her prep soccer career... Named team MVP her sophomore, junior and senior seasons... Earned all-state honors on the pitch following her junior campaign... Garnered all-conference and Best Offensive Player honors for Robert Gardner's Starkville Academy team all four years of her career... Currently competing on Starkville Academy's girls' basketball team that has won 42-straight games going back to the 2011-12 season... Helped this season's Lady Vols hardwood squad to become the first MAIS team to enter the Clarion-Ledger Super 10 rankings... Won the Volunteer Award and was named to the Overall Tournament Team as she helped guide Starkville Academy to the Division II-AAA, I-AAA and overall state basketball championships... Part of the Lady Vols' 4x400-meter relay team that qualified for the state meet... Two-time Best Offensive Player winner in basketball and Best Runner on the track... Also won the Best Long Jump Award as a freshman after qualifying for the state tournament in the event... Played alongside fellow signee Abby Phillips for David Johnson and Kenny White on the Chicago Fire Juniors of Mississippi... Helped the Fire to the 2012 state championship... The squad won the Gulf States Premier League championship to earn a berth in the U.S. Club National tournament, where it advanced to the finals... Also played on the Fire's 2011 edition that won the Crossroads of the South championship and the Mississippi State Cup... Part of the Mississippi-Arkansas state '94 team that went to the 2010 Region III ODP camp... Also part of the 2009 Mississippi team, but was unable to attend the camp due to injury.
Personal: Born Nov. 24, 1994, in Florence, Miss... Daughter of Russ and Shelly Huddleston... Has two sisters, Hannah and Gracie.
Meara Johnson - GK; 6-0; Brampton, Ontario, Canada (North Park Secondary School/Brams United)
High School/Club: Member of the Ontario Provincial program since 2008... Invited to represent Jamaica at the 2012 CONCACAF tournament... Selected to attend Canada's National Training Centre in 2011 and 2012... Represented Team Ontario in goal, serving as captain of the squad in 2009 and 2010... Claimed three-straight gold medals in the Ontario vs. Quebec Series... Selected to mind the nets for Team Ontario in the 2008 and 2009 national tournaments... Started every game of the 2009 tournament, earning Goalkeeper of the Tournament honors... Claimed Player of the Match for Team Ontario with a shutout in a 2008 contest against Central Florida United U17... Played for Joe Nucifora with the Brams United Soccer Club... Compiled a 0.8 GAA in 2011, allowing four goals in 450 minutes... Led Brams United to 2010 OYSL silver medal, compiling a 0.38 goals-against average, the best in the league among male and female goalies... Led her squad to a 14-0-4 record in 2010, surrendering just seven goals in 1,620 minutes for a 0.38 goals-against average... Posted a 0.42 average in 2009 as she allowed just 12 goals over 2,500 minutes of action... Won the OYSL championship in 2008 and 2009... Also claimed the Ontario Cup in 2007 with Ajax Soccer Club.
Personal: Born June 30, 1995, in Brampton, Ontario, Canada... Daughter of Craig Johnson and Jennifer Horton.
Abby Phillips - MF; 5-3; Tupelo, Miss. (Tupelo HS/Chicago Fire Juniors of Mississippi '95)
High School/Club: Three-star player by TopDrawerSoccer.com who starred in the midfield for Shelley Miller at Tupelo High School... Recently capped her senior campaign with a second-straight Mississippi Class 6A North State championship... Finished second in the state after falling to Ocean Springs in the title match... Also led Tupelo to a runner-up finish in the state title game as a junior after the squad won the North State championship... Named to the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal All-Area Team for the fourth time in her career... Captained the Lady Wave in 2011 and 2012... Selected Tupelo's Will To Win Award recipient the past two years... Named THS Most Valuable Player in 2011... Named THS' Unsung Hero Award winner in soccer following the 2009 season... Also excelled in cross country for Tupelo High, helping the team to three-straight state titles from 2007-09... Earned all-state honors following the 2007 cross country season... Joined fellow Bulldog signee Tiffany Huddleston in leading the Chicago Fire Juniors of Mississippi '95 squad to rate among one of the nation's best club teams... Played on the Fire's 2012 squad that won the state championship... Helped lead the Fire, coached by David Johnson and Kenny White, to the Gulf States Premier League championship and the finals of the U.S. Club National tournament... Also played on the Fire's 2011 edition that won the Crossroads of the South championship and the Mississippi State Cup... Participated in the Mississippi Olympic Development Program from 2006-11... Part of the Mississippi state pool in 2006 and 2007, and earned a place on the Mississippi team from 2008-11... Attended Region III Camp from 2008-11.
Personal: Born Feb. 10, 1995, in Flowood, Miss... Daughter of Bryan and Martha Phillips... Has one brother, John Michael.
Kayla Puzas - F/MF; 5-7; Atlanta, Ga. (Greater Atlanta Christian School/Concorde Fire South)
High School/Club: Four-star player by TopDrawerSoccer.com... Led Troy Bendickson's Greater Atlanta Christian School squad to its first state championship last season... Tallied the game-winning assist as GAC ended the season atop Georgia Class AA with a 1-0 win against Blessed Trinity... Scored 15 goals as a junior to lead GAC to an 18-2-1 record and the most goals in school history (122)... Helped the team to a No. 5 final ranking in A-AAAAA and a No. 10 rating in Region IIII (Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina)... Named to the Gwinett Daily Post All-County First Team following the championship run... Also earned Region 6-AA All-Region First Team accolades in 2012... Defeated Blessed Trinity for the state championship a year after falling to the team in the 2011 title game... Helped the Lady Spartans to a 16-3-2 record in 2011 as the team finished second in AA and 11th in A-AAAAA... Contributed to GAC scoring 119 goals in 2011... Guided Greater Atlanta Christian to region runner-up showings in 2011 and 2012 after helping the 2010 squad to the region title... Also excelled in the pool for GAC, qualifying for the state meet in 2010... Member of the Concorde Fire South club squad... Led Coach Brian Moore's squad to the Final Four at the 2012 national tournament... Helped the Concorde Fire in winning the Georgia Cup and a third-straight Region III Premier League title in 2011... Selected to the All-Event ECNL U15 Team in 2010... Also led the Fire to the 2010 Atlanta Cup, a year after the 2009 squad went to the finals of the Georgia State Cup... Member of the Fire's 2008 team that went to the semifinals of the Super Y nationals and took runner-up at the Super Y South Atlantic tournament... Played on the Georgia 95 Girls Olympic Development Program team from 2007-12... Won the Region III championship with the squad in 2012 en route to a fourth-place finish at the ODP national tournament... Named to the Region III pool the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons... Tabbed to the 1995 Girls ODP National Camp roster in 2012.
Personal: Born March 21, 1995, in San Antonio, Texas... Daughter of David and Denise Puzas... Has two siblings, Camden and Caden.