Sunday, July 12, 2020

Kickers must strive for tournament victory

October 20, 2000

As both the MSU men’s and women’s soccer teams near the Big Ten tournament, they are not depending on other teams losing to give them a boost in the standings.

The women head out West to northern California on Friday to take on St. Mary’s at 3 p.m. They travel to the University of San Francisco at 4 p.m. Sunday, while the men’s team tries to leap over Penn State in the standings at 3 p.m. Sunday.

MSU women’s head coach Tom Saxton said it’s a good thing for MSU to get out one more time on a major road trip so the team can get back together and refocus.

“It will be a nice change of pace,” Saxton said. “The Big Ten is a physical style, a grueling style. This (weekend’s games) will be a little bit more of a finesse style game out there. It will be a nice break just in terms of having a different look.”

MSU co-captain Gina Dawson said blaming a loss on the conditions of the West Coast is just an excuse.

“We’ve all been playing soccer for practically our whole lives so you learn how to adjust to different styles of play,” the senior midfielder said. “Pretty much every team you play has a different style and you have to adjust to that, and I don’t think (this weekend) will be any different to anything that we are used to.”

The women’s team faces a similar dilemma that the men’s team faced earlier this year when it traveled west for the Loyola Marymount tournament, facing a challenging West Coast style of play.

Saxton said West Coast teams pose a problem in that the players are fast, and they play all year round. He also added that the turf out West can give Midwest teams problems too.

“California still produces the most high level soccer players in the country,” Saxton said. “Even the smaller schools like the ones we’re facing this weekend, all of them are good - they’re deep. There is an issue with the surface, they do keep the grass a bit shorter.”

MSU men’s head coach Joe Baum offered the women’s team a bit of advice, saying that it needs to practice on the game field before each game.

“They’re doing everything exactly right,” Baum said. “I talked to them, I think the key is you got to get in there the day before (the match) and practice, ideally on the field you are going to play.

The men’s team has been playing its best soccer as of late - with three straight double-overtime games versus Ohio State, Loyola-Chicago and Michigan.

Victories in the latter two games can be credited to senior forward Steve Williford, who netted the winning goals in both games, earning him Big Ten Player of the Week honors for the week of Oct. 9.

Williford, who was unaware of the honor until Wednesday, said he has to put it behind him in order to prepare for this weekend’s game at Penn State.

“I didn’t even know I was (the Big Ten Player of the Week),” Williford said. “I just have to have a good week in practice (this week), I’m still a little beat up. Sunday (versus Penn State) is a whole new game, what I did in the past is behind me so I just have to start preparing for Sunday.”

The men’s team (7-5-1, 2-1-1 in the conference) looks to win its final two Big Ten contests to get sole possession of second place behind Indiana.

But Penn State (10-3-1, 3-1-1), which is ranked No. 2 in the Mid-Atlantic region, is returning the majority of a squad that made an NCAA quarterfinal appearance last year.

Baum said MSU was in two tight games with the Nittany Lions last year, so the Spartans are confident they can compete this year as well.

“We go in there with a lot of respect for them but not in awe or anything,” Baum said. “We think we are better than we were last year, we think they’re about the same (as last year) so I think you’ll see another 2-1 soccer game.”

Williford said the last three games, including comeback wins at Loyola-Chicago and Michigan, were just the shot the team needed to cause damage in the final stretch of the conference.

“It helps. It showed a lot of character from our team,” Williford said. “(In) three overtime games in seven days we never quit. I think that will bring us together as a team. When times get tough out there we know we usually stick together, and it just helps in those situations since we’ve already been through it.”

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