With the start of their Big Ten season looming, the MSU field hockey team wants to prove to everyone that last year’s 7-13 last-place finish in the Big Ten was a fluke and that they’re ready to contend for a conference title.
“This year, we really have a good chance of being a Big Ten championship contender,” junior goalkeeper Molly Cassidy said. “Everyone from the freshmen to the veteran seniors knows what’s ahead. We know every year that the Big Ten is the biggest challenge. … We’re really excited about that.”
MSU has faced a competitive preconference schedule, facing several nationally ranked teams. The Spartans emerged 5-3 in the early going and are currently ranked No. 15 nationally, jumping four spots after wins over American and Louisville this past weekend.
MSU also has played two games that went into overtime, something Cassidy thinks will help going forward.
“Our early season games, (featuring) everything from overtime to double overtime, have really prepared us,” Cassidy said. “Overall, I think we’re on the (way) up.”
The Spartans finally open up their Big Ten schedule this weekend, when they take on Iowa on Friday. Head coach Helen Knull said the intensity ratchets up once you’re playing games within the conference.
“I think you start to see more push from everybody,” Knull said. “There’s more on the line, and everyone knows how important every game is. Friday is the first (game) of many, and we’re excited and ready to get going.”
Sophomore forward Abby Barker said she likes playing conference games because of the competitiveness of the games.
“It’s really fun,” Barker said. “Everyone just wants that win. Everyone comes out and gives 100 percent.”
Knull and company have consistently reiterated their desire to win a Big Ten title, and the belief that they can do so.
“I think that we really do have the opportunity to be one of the key teams in the Big Ten,” Barker said. “I hope that we’re going to perform well against teams in season and, hopefully (that will) lead us to the Big Ten championship.”
Knull added that the team also wants to make sure it’s one of the 16 teams selected for this year’s NCAA Tournament. And from there, anything’s possible.
“We want to get back into the NCAA Tournament,” Knull said. “But we know if we take care of the Big Ten, that’s going to come … you never know what’s going to happen (in the tournament).”
Although it might seem odd that a team that won just seven games last year and returned most of the same players is talking about winning a conference title, Cassidy said this team isn’t the same at all.
“We’re the definition of a collective team now,” she said. “We attack together, (and) we defend together. We’re all in, all the time, throughout the entire game.”
Barker agreed and added that the team’s work last spring was a big stepping stone in setting up their success this year.
Now, as Knull said, it’s up to the team to go out and prove themselves.
“Right now, we’re in a place where every opponent we come up against we’re ready for,” she said. “We’ve got to come prepared and ready to go.”
MSU takes on Iowa at 3 p.m. on Friday at Ralph Young Field.