“(Friday’s game) was exciting for us, even though it was disappointing at the same time,” sophomore fullback Michelle Graham said. “We gave both opponents a really good game, fought hard and stepped up to the challenge.”
Sophomore forward Allie Ahern said, even in the aftermath of the goal that ended Virginia’s double-overtime win, the coaches let the team know how they felt.
“Our coaches were really proud of the way we played,” Ahern said. “I was happy with our performance.”
The key now is to rebound, and the Spartans will have the opportunity to do so this weekend, when they welcome American, Central Michigan and Louisville to East Lansing for the Auto-Owners Insurance MSU Invitational. The slate perhaps is a welcome respite after facing then-No. 6 Virginia and then-No. 14 Northeastern. But MSU liked being tested early on, according to Graham.
“It’s good for us to see what we need to work on going into Big Ten play,” Graham said. “Playing against these ranked teams is really preparing us for the challenge of the Big Ten.”
Head coach Helen Knull’s main complaint from the weekend was the disparate performance from Friday to Sunday.
“It’s almost like they came in Sunday a little bit fatigued or a little bit flat,” Knull said. “I said to the girls after the game ‘what are we going to do to prepare for a Friday and Sunday where we have Saturday off? What can we do to keep the same thing from happening this weekend?’”
Knull said MSU has two main goals for this weekend’s tournament: improving the team’s execution on offense and making sure they’re playing their brand of Spartan hockey. Goals in mind, the Spartans are ready for the challenge, Ahern said.
“As a team, we want to get more shots off,” Ahern said. “We’re hanging in close but we’re not really scoring and executing inside the circle. We want to put more balls in the net.”
Although the Spartans’ mantra this year has been to focus only on the next game and not look too far ahead, it’s hard to keep from thinking about the start of Big Ten play, when the season starts in earnest.
“I think we’re ready,” Ahern said. “If we played a Big Ten team right now, we’d probably be fine, but it’s nice to have two more weeks of practice to prepare.”
Graham and Knull were both clear that the ultimate goal is a Big Ten title — as is the case every season.
“We believe we can do it,” Graham said. “Everyone on our team wants to win the Big Ten title and everything we do is working toward that.”
Knull did couch her optimism with the observation that the Big Ten season always goes down to the wire.
“We want to win it,” she said. “But it happens every year: the title is usually won in the last weekend of the year and then there’s a dogfight for seeding at the tournament. But we’re in a good place as a program and as a team, and now it’s just about carrying momentum forward.”