It’s safe to say Zach Bennett is one of the best goalkeepers in the country.
The sophomore goalkeeper at the back of the No. 18 MSU men’s soccer team is ninth in the country in save percentage (.865), 15th in total saves (90), 17th in saves per game (5.29) and 32nd in goals against average (.769).
He racked up back-to-back Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors in September and has a Big Ten best nine shutouts on the season, which also ties the single season Spartan shutout record.
“He’s been extremely solid,” head coach Damon Rensing said. “Goalkeepers are always critical of themselves, and so are coaches on goalkeepers, and every goal gets magnified. There’s a very small amount of goals we can look at and say ‘That one was on Zach.’”
He also is the only Spartan to play every minute of every game this year.
“It’s been a long year, a lot of overtime games, a lot of minutes, but it’s been a fun year,” Bennett said. “When you have success like we have this season, you don’t think about the minutes or injuries, because in the spring time we’ll be complaining about the cold and offseason workouts.”
MSU was one of the biggest schools in one of the biggest conferences that were after the talented keeper when the Plano, Texas native made his trek north.
“When I was getting recruited, there were only two D-I teams in the state of Texas,” Bennett said. “After a showcase tournament in Phoenix, I came up to a camp and fell in love with (MSU). I decided to give it a shot up north.”
He said Houston was out of the question, and there was another goalkeeper his age at Southern Methodist that he would have to compete for playing time with for all four years.
The MSU coaching staff weren’t the only ones happy to hear Bennett was bringing his talents to the Mitten.
Senior defender Kevin Cope said Bennett’s combination of confidence and stability in net gives him and the other defenders more confidence.
“He’s not shaky and he doesn’t second guess himself when he comes and gets (the ball),” Cope said. “He’s made big saves when he’s called upon, and he makes good decisions. He’s only going to get better, which is scary, but good.”
Bennett, Cope and the MSU defense allowed just 14 goals during the regular season, the fewest of any Big Ten team.
After 10 games of the 2012 campaign, Bennett relieved then-junior goalkeeper Bryce Dobbins as the starter between the posts.
Bennett said last year was a tough one for Dobbins, but without his encouragement, Bennett wouldn’t be where he is right now.
“Bryce is one of my good friends,” Bennett said. “I didn’t expect him to take it as well as he did. Once I became the starter, he was nothing but supportive and helped me with the things he had to work on. (He was) just trying to help me out as best he could and be a friend through it all.”
Bennett is the MSU leader in every major category since 2010 and the top 10 all-time in some. If he keeps up this pace, there’s no doubt his name will be etched at the top of the record books next to the MSU greats.
With all the accolades and recognition, Bennett is thankful but stays modest, and takes the phrase ‘There is no “I” in team’ to another level.
“You hear about it a little and it’s pretty cool, and you feel pretty honored.” he said. “More than anything it’s a testament to our whole whole team. I’ve done a couple good things this year, but the defense has played outstanding and I give so much of the credit to them.”