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Breaking down the Big Ten: Women's soccer

September 24, 2009

Record: 6-0-2

Key players: Senior forward Lauren Hill, sophomore forward Laura Heyboer, senior midfielder Lauren Sinacola, sophomore goalkeeper Jill Flietstra

Important Big Ten games: Penn State (Sept. 27), at Illinois (Oct. 30), Minnesota (Oct. 25), Ohio State (Nov. 6)

Conference outlook: For the No. 13 MSU women’s soccer team, there’s no easing into the Big Ten season.

All the Spartans have to do first is face No. 22 Penn State — the 12-time reigning Big Ten champions — at noon Sunday at DeMartin Stadium at Old College Field.

“By far the best soccer program in the history of women’s soccer in the Big Ten,” head coach Tom Saxton said.

“And … there’s no reason to expect anything less than another great Penn State team this year.”

On the same token, there’s no reason to expect anything less than a potentially great MSU team this year. The Nittany Lions were pegged as the preseason favorite in voting by the coaches, but the Spartans were right behind them at No. 2.

Last season, MSU went 5-4-1 to finish fourth in the conference. With all but one returning starter and yet another talented freshman class, the Spartans breezed through the nonconference season.

Although their nonconference opponents weren’t as physical as MSU’s fellow Big Ten foes, senior midfielder Megan Brown said the Spartans are prepared for the tough Big Ten.

“We’ve seen that a lot,” Brown said of physical play. “I think that a lot of teams are handling us because we’re a particularly skilled team and we like to play on the ground, so people have been using that to try to find a weakness.”

Following Penn State and MSU in the preseason coaches poll was Illinois (third), Purdue (fourth) and Ohio State and Minnesota, tied for fifth.

But, as is custom for the Spartans, senior midfielder Lauren Sinacola said MSU will go through the season more focused on themselves, rather than how to change for each opponent.

“Our coaches are always really focused on how our team is going to prepare and how we’re going to play our game, play our soccer,” Sinacola said. “Because we’re a soccer team and we might not be the biggest ones out there, but we have the skill to really play soccer around other teams.”

Final standings and conference record predictions: Second, 8-2. Facing Penn State without Hill will be too much to overcome for the Spartans, who will drop their conference opener in their first ever loss at DeMartin Stadium. The other road bump will come at one of the road games at Purdue or Illinois.

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