STARKVILLE — Lauryn “Red” Bruffett enjoys wreaking havoc as a forward.
But there is a difference in the amount of damage you can do when you are 5-foot-4 compared to someone who is 5-9.
Bruffett knows that all too well because four years ago she hadn’t hit the growth spurt that has helped her to mature to her current height as a freshman on the Mississippi State women’s soccer team.
You have to go all the way back to Bruffett’s freshman year in high school and find one of the online biographies that lists her accomplishments and includes a picture of her when she was all of 5-4 and 113 pounds.
“I kind of grew my sophomore and junior year,” Bruffett said. “It was all like in a few months. It changed me completely. I became so much stronger and I got more confident on the ball. Being in the air and being physical, I was able to do a lot more on the field.”
Bruffett’s growth spurt solidified her move from an outside midfielder/forward to a full-time forward. It also hastened her rise up the recruiting ranks and attracted plenty of attention for her. Fortunately for MSU coach Aaron Gordon, he was able to identify Bruffett early, to build a relationship with her, and to convince her to come to Starkville.
Bruffett’s decision is paying off for MSU, which is coming off a 3-0 victory against then-No. 20 Kentucky on Sunday. Bruffett scored two goals and had an assist in the victory to help keep the Bulldogs in the running for a spot in the Southeastern Conference tournament. MSU (4-7-3, 2-3-2 SEC) will try to keep that momentum going at 7 tonight when it plays host to No. 13 Florida (10-3-1, 4-2-1) at the MSU Soccer Field. The game will be broadcast live on the SEC Network +.
Gordon said Bruffett was “on his radar” for recruiting when he still was a coach at Texas Tech. In fact, he said he remembers sitting with his former boss, Texas Tech head coach Tom Stone, and watching Bruffett. He recalls thinking Bruffett was going to be a late bloomer because she was going through a growth spurt. He said he hoped Bruffett’s size would allow her to go unnoticed, which would enable him to recruit her and, possibly, convince her to come to Starkville.
“My first event I went to as a coach of Mississippi State University was to go see Red Bruffett,” Gordon said. “She was the first person I really wanted to go and get because I thought she was a player could compete at this level. … That was the type of players Tom and I went to go get a lot.”
Gordon said Bruffett has competed and used her physicality to make an impact as a freshman. That shouldn’t be surprising because he said in February that when MSU announced its first signees for the Class of 2015 that the product of the D’Feeters Soccer Club in Farmers Branch, Texas, would make an “immediate impact” due in part to her physicality.
Bruffett has lived up to Gordon’s words and is second on the team with three goals and tied for second with seven points.
On Monday, the SEC named Bruffett Offensive Player of the Week for scoring two goals and earning an assist in MSU’s 3-0 victory against then-No. 20 Kentucky on Sunday. On Wednesday, CollegeSoccer360.com recognized the 5-foot-9 freshman from Rockland, Texas, as one of its weekly Primetime Performers. Bruffett’s five points against Kentucky were the most for a match by a Bulldog this season.
“Physicality isn’t necessarily being overly aggressive, it is just using your physical strength to your advantage because you have it,” Gordon said. “That is what she has done. She is learning how to use the physicality and play in college in a different way maybe that she could do as a club player. (In club ball), using your physical skills, you can get away with things and just dominate a player. (In college), you’re using your physicality to just give yourself a yard of space. Now you have to use it in the right way to make the right decision. That is always the transition most college players have. She, at times, has been really, really good.”
Gordon said Bruffett has worked well up top with classmate Kennadi Carbin and sophomore Mallory Eubanks. With four regular-season games remaining, Gordon said most first-year players in college are battling fatigue and trying to fight through to the end. He said Bruffett seems to have found her footing and has adjusted to the rigors of the college season. That is exciting for a program that has work to do down the stretch. MSU is 10th in the SEC standings. The top 10 teams advance to the SEC tournament Nov. 2-8 in Orange Beach, Alabama.
“You get halfway through it and they’re all looking around like they hit a wall,” Gordon said. “You have a choice. You stare at the wall or you climb over the wall, and I think Red is climbing over the wall. I think she is ready in this four-game stretch and is starting to figure things out.”
Bruffett said she played a lot of center forward in high school. She said she also would play attacking midfielder when she played on her club team. Regardless of where she has played, she has used a motto that appears on her biography page for the D’Feeters, who are a member of the Elite Clubs National League. The quote that Bruffett selected is from 1 Corinthians 9:24 and says, “Do you not know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.”
Bruffett said her father, John, instilled that mentality in her when she was playing soccer and basketball and competing in track and field. She said that same mind-set drives her to be her best for the Bulldogs to help the program reverse its recent history. Bruffett is doing her best to help affect a change. She is sixth on the team in minutes (897). Five of the top players in minutes are underclassmen.
“I have tried to (make an immediate impact and be a physical presence),” Bruffett said. “Playing with this team, I really, really, really love it, and there is a lot of physicality in the college game i was not expecting, but I have tried to step up to that. If I can just focus on being more physical and getting myself involved and engaged it will do much better.”
n In other MSU news, the volleyball team (13-6, 3-3 SEC) will face LSU (7-9, 3-2) at 7 tonight at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. The match will be live streamed on the SEC Network +. … Malik Newman, a 6-foot-3 freshman guard from Jackson, was one of 20 players named to the Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year watch list, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced. … MSU sophomore guard Victoria Vivians was named Thursday to College Sports Madness’ Preseason All-SEC First Team. The honor comes after a freshman campaign in which she was named an Associated Press All-America Honorable Mention and a second-team All-SEC pick by The Associated Press and the league coaches. … Men’s tennis freshmen Lucas Sanchez and Trevor Foshey earned singles wins Thursday on the second day of the USTA/ITA Southern Regional Championships at the Alabama Tennis Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Sanchez downed Jacksonville State’s Austin McCormick, 7-5, 6-1, while Foshey beat Jacksonville State’s Vinivio Hadlich, 6-4, 6-4. Junior Vaughn Hunter and freshman Niclas Braun earned first-round byes. In the second round Hunter lost to LSU’s Justin Butsch, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4, while Braun, Foshey, and Sanchez all dropped straight-set matches. Hunter and Braun will compete today in the singles consolation. The team of Foshey and Braun will compete today in doubles. … Junior Rishab Agarwal defeated Alexander Ritschard, 6-3, 7-6 on Thursday to advance to the quarterfinals of the Houston Futures event. Agarwal has defeated five opponents at the tournament. He will face No. 2 seed Matt Reid today.
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Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.