Column: Positives abound as men’s soccer ends season
Senior forward Nick Wilson and Notre Dame midfielder Dillon Powers reach for the ball on Sunday at Alumni Stadium in South Bend, Ind. The Spartans lost to the Fighting Irish in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, 3-0. Julia Nagy/The State News
At the beginning of October, nobody expected the MSU men’s soccer team to make it to where it did.
Sitting well below .500 with a 3-6-1 record, things just weren’t clicking for MSU. There seemed to be a disconnect between the bursts of talent displayed occasionally and the chemistry among players.
The roster was littered with nagging injuries, and whenever a game seemed within reach, it felt like it was just a few inches too far. Of the six losses through the Northwestern game on Sept. 30, three of those were in double overtime.
But the Ohio State game following the Northwestern matchup visibly was the turning point for what ended up being a red-hot second half of the season, spinning the next 13 games into a 9-4 record.
The sting of a season-ending loss to No. 1 Notre Dame still might be burning, but the Spartans should have nothing but pride when looking back on this fall.
Was the 3-0 loss in South Bend, Ind., on Sunday disappointing? Of course it was.
Was the season? Not at all.
“When we had the year we were having early on, the hopes you had for later on in the season, the postseason, those kind of fade away,” sophomore forward Adam Montague said. “As we moved on in the season, we started winning games and we started getting that hope back. We go on and get that close to getting a regular-season title, then we play really well and win out the postseason and the Big Ten.”
The winning streak MSU rode had its fair share of adversity, much like the first half of the season. Heading into the final regular-season game, MSU had hopes for a Big Ten regular-season title looming in front of it.
All the Spartans needed to do was take a bus down to Ann Arbor, beat the Wolverines and the title was theirs. Unfortunately, a header by a Michigan player was the only shot of the game that found the back of the net, and MSU saw its regular-season title go to Penn State and Northwestern.
With a record still below .500 at the time, MSU headed into the Big Ten Tournament knowing its only shot at an NCAA Tournament would be leading the Big Ten Tournament with a win.
It seemed doubtful, but the Green and White offered three upset wins over Indiana, Penn State and Michigan to earn themselves a spot in the NCAA Tournament that they might have not dreamt about two months prior.
The team never was bad; it just had trouble capitalizing on chances all year. When those goals started coming and head coach Damon Rensing threw freshman goalkeeper Zach Bennett into the net, it was as if a switch was flipped.
An NCAA Men’s College Cup run by this Cinderella team would have been every sports fan’s and reporter’s dream. The Spartans fell short of that, but the place they made it to after the season started off was darn impressive.
They easily could have coasted through with an average record and ended the season with a Big Ten Tournament loss. MSU refused to settle for mediocrity, and Rensing has developed a team of fighters that should be a force to be reckoned with in 2013.
“The character of this program came shining through,” Rensing said. “That’s a sign of this program. This program is a family. … We have a lot moving forward. This is a young team … and now it’s up to them to get (determined) and get after it next year.”
Alyssa Girardi is a State News soccer reporter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.