After winning conference crown, MSU ready for NCAA opening game
It was mere days ago that the field hockey team clinched its first Big Ten Championship in four years. With that behind them, MSU is on to the next step — the NCAA Tournament.
The Spartans (12-9 overall, 4-2 Big Ten) will take on Miami (OH) (12-9 overall, 3-2 Mid-American) in the play-in round of the NCAA Tournament at 2 p.m. today at Munn Field.
MSU clinched an automatic berth by winning the conference championship.
However, because of a weaker regular season record in comparison to higher-ranked teams, they will have to overcome the Redhawks to progress to the first round on Saturday, where No. 2-seed Syracuse awaits.
The Redhawks defeated MSU at home on Oct. 6, 2-0. However, the Spartans have the momentum of the tournament run working in their favor, which they hope will continue.
“I’ve been expecting this for a couple weeks now, that if we won today we would have that game,” said head coach Helen Knull. “We figured it would be the winner of the match. For us, we didn’t play our best when we played at Miami before. We’re a very different team since then. We’ll have the team ready and prepared tactically, and it’s going to be a case of showing up and executing on Wednesday.”
MSU went 4-2 in the regular season after the loss against Miami. If the Big Ten Tournament run is factored in, the Spartans are 7-2 since the loss.
“We … went to Miami and I don’t think we played our game,” junior forward Abby Barker said. “I’m excited that it’s at home and I think we’re going to be able to redeem ourselves.”
Barker was a huge part of the second half comeback that allowed the Spartans to win the championship game over Iowa, 3-2. Barker scored two goals to bring her season total to 16. Senior midfielder Adelle Lever followed with the game-winning goal with under eight minutes left.
“I’m happy (the game is) going to be on our home field,” Lever said. “We lost to them two-nothing, but I really think that anything can happen and I’m confident that we can keep going on in the tournament.”
The team understands the stakes as they enter the NCAA Tournament.
Just like before, each game from this point forward is win or go home.
“It was no mystery that we struggled at the beginning of the season,” senior captain and midfielder Kristen Henn said. “But we’ve come such a long way and we’ve improved so much. Just to see our level of field hockey, even from the middle of the season to now, it’s incredible how much we’ve improved. So we hope to keep that going.”