Last year, the MSU women’s soccer team was 7-1-1 headed into Big Ten play.
The Spartans, however, stumbled during Big Ten play, going 2-8-1 — tied for last place in the conference.
This year, the Spartans are 6-0-2 heading into Big Ten play.
MSU is in almost the exact same predicament this year as they were last season with 11 more Big Ten games left. The only question is whether they will carry their performance from non-conference into the conference play.
Although seven of the games were lost by just a goal, head coach Tom Saxton and the Spartans will look to redeem themselves when they open up their Big Ten schedule Thursday afternoon at Nebraska.
When it comes to Big Ten season, though, anything can happen.
“The Big Ten’s tough. I couldn’t make any predictions,” Saxton said. “We lost several one-goal games last year and that could happen again easily. We’ll try and make sure we’re in the best possible mindset to compete in those games.”
Players said last year’s team was more “cliquey” and not as hungry, and believe players have what it takes to reach their goals in a Big Ten championship and an NCAA Tournament berth.
And the real test starts Thursday.
Hunger. Unity. Resilience.
Those are the three words the Spartans live by this year, senior defender and team captain Kelsey Mullen said.
Mullen, along with other players such as junior goalkeeper Courtney Clem and sophomore forward Rachel Van Poppelen, all agreed that this is the closest-knit, most driven team they’ve played on while at MSU.
“Everyone just cares for each other and loves for each other and that just shows on the field,” Mullen said earlier in the season. “Showing that passion, you just know the person next to you or in front of you is going to work hard for you and for the team.”
Although their record has no losses, that doesn’t mean MSU hasn’t lost anything during its non-conference schedule.
During opening weekend, MSU lost both junior forward Paige Wester and junior midfielder/forward Lisa Vogel to knee injuries, and they have been out ever since.
More recently, against New Mexico, Clem was knocked out of the game midway through the first half when she was kicked in the face.
With only six upperclassmen on the team, the Spartans have had to rely on a young playing rotation, led by sophomore forward Allyson Krause, sophomore defender Mary Kathryn Fiebernitz and redshirt freshman midfielder Jessica White.
Though Wester, Vogel and Clem sat out this past weekend against Bowling Green and Eastern Michigan, Saxton said all three have returned to participating and expects the three to return in the near future.