Field hockey ready to bounce back from tough weekend

After a tough weekend that saw the MSU field hockey team fall to a pair of ranked teams, Virginia and Northeastern, the Spartans are hoping that the Auto-Owners Insurance MSU Invitational will help cure what ails them.

“Obviously, we want to have a 2-0 weekend at home going into Big Ten play,” head coach Helen Knull said. “The bigger thing is putting two games together and playing 70 solid minutes.”

Even after last weekend’s struggles, MSU continues to gain national respect. The Spartans actually moved up in the 2012 Penn Monto/National Field Hockey Coaches Association, or NFHCA, Division I National Coaches Poll this week, going from No. 20 to No. 19. But the team is focused on what lies ahead, according to sophomore fullback Michelle Graham.

Graham said the team “definitely (is) going for 2-0,” but the weekend is more about rebounding from the previous weekend and building momentum going forward.

“We’re excited to be home again, and to get another opportunity (to win at home),” Graham said. “We’re definitely a different team than we were at this point last year and our goal is to play two games to our full potential and to play Spartan hockey the whole time.”

Graham’s assessment, that this year’s team is fundamentally different from last year’s, has come up a lot through the early part of the season. Following last year’s 7-13 showing, it’s been a point of pride for the Spartans that they’ve turned things around.

“We’re such a different team this year,” sophomore forward Allie Ahern said. “Our culture is way different. This year, we’re really coming together as a team. We’re playing for each other, not individually. We’re well prepared and really fit.”

This weekend, MSU will play American at 6 p.m. on Friday at Ralph Young Field. The Eagles are just 2-4, but won a pair of games last weekend after starting 0-4.

Before MSU takes the field, however, Louisville and Central Michigan will face off. The winner of the Louisville-Central Michigan game will play the winner of the MSU-American game at 1 p.m. on Sunday, while the losers of each game will square off at 11 a.m. the same day. As a result, the Spartans won’t know which team they will be playing or when they’ll play until their game on Friday is over. Louisville enters the weekend at 4-2, while Central Michigan comes in at 3-2.

Also, the Spartans currently are without sophomore starting midfielder Becky Stiles, who is in Guadalajara, Mexico, with the U.S. under-21 national team, playing in the under-21 version of the Pan-American Games. MSU hopes to have Stiles back for their Sept. 28 game at home against Indiana, but until then, Knull said she was going to have to figure out how to manage the offense with different midfielders.

For now, however, it’s time to focus on this weekend and get their game together.

“(Against Virginia) we put a full 70 minutes together from a tactical and technical perspective,” Knull said. “The hope is that continues (into this weekend). It’s about our confidence.”

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