The dominoes continue to fall for the field hockey team, and the latest win is the biggest fallen domino of the season.
The Spartans toppled powerhouse No. 2 Syracuse, 2-1, on Saturday to advance to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2009.
Junior forward Abby Barker and freshman midfielder Kristin Matula each scored a goal in the upset. Junior forward Allie Ahern recorded an assist as well.
The upset snapped a 45-game home winning streak and was the first home loss of the year for Syracuse, who is the regional host for the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
The game was a far cry from the 4-0 drubbing MSU suffered at home from Syracuse in the beginning of the season.
“We didn’t know who we were as a team,” head coach Helen Knull said. “We were figuring out how we played and what our strengths were. After Wednesday, the girls just focused in. We needed to execute our game plan and finish on our chances.”
MSU (14-9 overall, 4-2 Big Ten) has now won six straight and nine of 11 after starting the regular season 3-6.
In a defensively-strong stand, senior goalkeeper Molly Cassidy had 10 saves.
Syracuse out-shot the Spartans 10-2 in the first half. Cassidy had six saves, and the strength of MSU’s backfield kept the home team at bay.
Barker scored the first goal of the game just about six minutes in, receiving the pass from Ahern at the left of the circle and sending the ball into the net.
Syracuse’s Alyssa Manley scored off rebound with under seven minutes remaining in the first half.
The offensive pressure was just as strong in the second half as Syracuse outshot MSU 9-2. But the defensive pressure stayed just as strong as Syracuse was held scoreless.
“We felt we were in the drivers seat,” Knull said. “It gave us an advantage from our side of the game that Syracuse was chasing us instead of us chasing them. And that makes a huge difference.”
Matula’s second goal of the season ended up being the game-winner. With under 20 minutes left, she won the game on a breakaway off a turnover.
“Kristen has been somebody all year that’s played every game,” Knull said. “Although she doesn’t play a ton of minutes, the minutes she plays she contributes a lot to the overall team play. She was one on one with the keeper and and she was very, very poised.”
With a program win behind them, the Spartans will look forward UConn on Sunday at 2 p.m. MSU doesn’t have a lot of history playing UConn in recent years, but it’s safe to say the Spartans are prepared for the challenge.
“We have the self-belief in our ability to beat anybody,” Knull said. At this stage in the season, anything can happen. We’re playing really well, we’re playing as a unit, we’re executing well. We’re peaking at the right time and we’re playing some great hockey.”