Maddy Anderson crouched on the goal line, clapping her hands together as she waited for the shot.
Not even four minutes into her first college soccer match on Sept. 18, 2020, the Mississippi State goalkeeper was tossed into a troublesome situation. Anderson faced a free kick from the center of the semicircle outside the 18-yard box.
“It was a little crazy, not going to lie, especially how close it was,” she said.
Oh, yeah, and the match was at Auburn — the school Anderson almost went to before choosing the Bulldogs. No pressure, right?
Not for Anderson.
The freshman leapt to challenge a shot from the Tigers’ Sydney Richards, getting a fingertip on the ball before it deflected off the crossbar and out of bounds.
Anderson had passed her first test. And she’s never looked back.
“She was thrown in it Day 1, and she’s crushed it ever since,” Mississippi State coach James Armstrong said.
More than a year since that “nerve-racking” moment, Anderson has continued her ascent into an elite Southeastern Conference keeper — and much, much more.
“I think she’s one of the best goalies in the country,” midfielder Macey Hodge said.
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Growing up in Broomfield, Colorado — a suburb of Denver — Anderson seemed to have things figured out.
By middle school, she’d cultivated a good group of friends. At Broomfield Soccer Club, she was a promising young player, switching from forward to goalkeeper at age 12.
The next year, several of her mother’s relatives moved from Broomfield to Texas, settling in the Houston area. Anderson’s parents Steve and Kelsie talked things over with Anderson and her brother Carter. They decided to follow, moving to Seabrook, Texas, at the end of Anderson’s seventh-grade year.
“We made the decision as a family, and so she was on board, but it doesn’t mean it didn’t come without some pain,” Kelsie Anderson said.
A thousand miles from the city she grew up in, Anderson found herself alone and struggling to fit in during eighth grade at a school where everyone seemed to know each other — but not her.
“It was one of the hardest years of my life,” she said. “I really didn’t find my stride until freshman year of high school.”
She found friends on the Clear Falls High School team, and she found Challenge Soccer Club, too. A member of the Elite Clubs National League, Challenge was happy to accept a player who entered as “small” and “timid” but left as anything but, goalkeeper coach Chris Maravalli said.
“By the end of her club career with us, I did not see many goalkeepers in the country that I would rate higher than Madelynn,” said Maravalli, who coached Anderson from the U14 to U19 teams.
There was just one problem: Challenge was located in Tomball, on the other side of the Houston metropolitan area. The trip took an hour and a half or more each direction, meaning tons of time in the car.
Anderson remains grateful for the time her parents — both of whom work remotely — spent driving her to and from club practice four days a week. Steve and Kelsie alternated the trips, happy to have some one-on-one time with their daughter. They took her to road games and tournaments out of state, too.
“We got to be a part of that, and that’s something we did value, as stressful as it was going through traffic and spending all that time in the car,” Kelsie said.
On the road, Anderson typically slept or ate on the way to Tomball and used the trip back to work on schoolwork. She took so many weighted classes her senior year GPA ended up at a striking 5.36.
Unsurprisingly, Anderson was a National Honor Society member and graduated summa cum laude from Clear Falls. She has continued that academic success at Mississippi State, even taking time to be a TA for a Biology 2 class — creating and grading quizzes and attending lab every Wednesday.
“Academics have always been important to her,” Kelsie said. “She always strives to be a straight-A student, and so far — knock on wood — she’s there.”
Maravalli said Anderson isn’t the first Challenge player to stand out academically and won’t be the last, but the blend of her skill on the field, her determination in the classroom and her effort to excel in both made her unique.
“All of our kids make sacrifices,” Maravalli said. “She made a lot.”
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By the time she graduated in 2020, Anderson had turned herself into a top-30 college soccer prospect in Texas.
But one aspect of her recruiting profile — something she couldn’t control — became a knock on her. At 5-foot-8, Anderson is by no means short, but she doesn’t possess the frame of many elite goalkeepers.
“That was always the big thing with her: Is she tall enough?” Maravalli said.
Everything else with Anderson was nearly flawless, including her range, her hands, her quick feet and her positioning on one-on-one opportunities.
So was her ability to communicate with teammates, coordinate them on free kicks and corners and lead them on the field, something Anderson said she feels a lot more confident doing in her second season in Starkville. (And it’s right up the alley of someone so organized she actually enjoys cleaning her room, according to Kelsie.)
“I don’t think people realize it that much, but it’s not just the saves,” Anderson said. “The main thing is making sure your team is organized and being able to help your team advance in the attack as well.”
On one fateful club trip in 2018 to an ECNL national training camp in Portland, Anderson got a chance to do that on a whole new level. Paris Saint-Germain was in town to play Manchester City in an exhibition match, and PSG picked Anderson and three other players to join their team for part of the match. Anderson played the last 10 minutes in goal and got to meet PSG keeper Christiane Endler, whose calmness and shot-stopping ability Anderson had always admired.
“I didn’t do much, but it was just great to be on that field and see some players that I look up to,” Anderson said.
She too has aspirations of a pro career, and she knew the SEC would help her get there. Before long, Anderson narrowed her college list to Auburn and Mississippi State, but when she considered her scholarship package and thought harder about the school she truly wanted to be at, she chose the Bulldogs. She committed to MSU as a sophomore on Nov. 17, 2017.
“Thankfully for us, she loved the family atmosphere at MSU and loved the campus,” Armstrong said. “It fit what she wanted from an academic standpoint, so obviously we’re now reaping the rewards of the choice that she made. We’re very blessed that she’s here.”
But before Anderson got to Starkville, a coaching change shook everything up. Mississippi State coach Tom Anagnost resigned Jan. 4, 2019, leaving for the head job at Illinois-Chicago.
Anderson felt her college future thrown into disarray. Would the Bulldogs’ new coaches even want her?
On Jan. 18, she got her answer when Mississippi State hired Armstrong, previously an assistant at none other than Auburn. Armstrong had recruited Anderson to play for the Tigers, and the two knew each other well.
“When we found out he was going to be the coach, it was just the best of both worlds,” Kelsie said. “We got to be at the school we wanted to be at with the coaching staff that we wanted. It just worked out really well. We were quite relieved.”
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But even though Anderson ended up at the right school for her, not everything has been easy.
At times, the weight of her responsibilities, including class, her TA position, practice and games, simply becomes overwhelming — “kind of like a flood hit you,” Anderson said.
Given how much her daughter cares, Kelsie said, that’s not surprising.
“She’s an overachiever in everything she does,” Kelsie said. “That relates to academics and soccer and family life. Sometimes it’s a blessing, and sometimes it’s not.”
When she feels a breakdown on the horizon, Anderson has ways of dealing with it. She’ll lean on her parents or teammates to help her refocus. Or she’ll stay in her apartment and paint Bible verses, throwing on an episode of Friends or Grey’s Anatomy — something she’s seen so much she only needs to listen.
Anderson is also a member of Mississippi State’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which meets Monday nights. She said she’s glad to be able to talk with other athletes going through similar things in sports and life.
“It’s nice to be able to share my experiences with them and to be able to share faith with them as well,” Anderson said.
She’s able to have her family in town often, too. Steve and Kelsie own an RV and make the 9-hour drive from Seabrook to Starkville for almost every game, a trip Kelsie said the two have “gotten used to” by now.
“We love soccer just as much as she does, so it’s been a blessing for us to be able to watch her and make most of the games and be able to see her do her thing and what she loves doing — what she’s passionate about,” Kelsie said.
By being there for each match — including that fateful first one at Auburn — Kelsie has a front-row seat to Anderson’s best moments. And there have been many: Her first career save barely 15 minutes later in that first contest against former Broomfield club teammate Mallory Mooney. Her six saves in an overtime match against Alabama last season. Her four shutouts so far in 2021, which is tied for eighth in Mississippi State single-season history.
“I feel so much more confident,” Anderson said. “Last year was kind of just getting the basics of college soccer down, but now that I have it down, I’m able to tweak things that are more advanced. I feel more confident in my communication, my distribution, and it definitely helps having people that I can trust to pass the ball to, as well.”
When it comes to fulfilling her dreams of playing professionally — she also wants to become a coach — Anderson is on the right track at Mississippi State. And those around her are happy to watch.
“It’s quite rewarding to see her be happy and thriving in her situation,” Kelsie said. “It was not an easy road getting to play college, and she made a lot of sacrifices along the way — a lot of missing out on things with friends. It’s just really great to see her be able to have fun and do what she loves to do and continue to grow each day.”
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.