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Spartans can get back on track in weekend games

October 22, 2009

The MSU women’s soccer team knows what’s at stake this weekend.

With only five games remaining in the regular season — including a 3 p.m. match Friday against Wisconsin and a noon game Sunday against Minnesota — the Spartans are now in crunch time.

“No question,” MSU head coach Tom Saxton said. “We know that and the kids know it. We just have to take it one game at a time and focus on our play.”

It’s been a strange Big Ten season not only for MSU (8-2-4 overall, 1-2-2 Big Ten), but also other conference teams. There have been nine ties in conference action and all but one (Iowa, who is 0-5-0) has played to a tie this year.

Saxton, who has been involved with Big Ten soccer since its inception, said the parity he’s seen this year is “unprecedented … and this is closest conference, I think, from top to bottom.” Because of the tight conference standings, numerous teams are close enough to each other that even the Spartans, who are tied with three other teams in seventh place, could make a jump into the top three or four if they are able to pick up wins instead of ties.

MSU, which was picked by conference coaches to finish second in the conference behind perennial powerhouse Penn State, has a chance to rise in the standings against third-place Wisconsin (7-5-4, 3-1-3) and the fifth-place Golden Gophers (10-4-2, 3-2-1).

“We’re just trying to get prepared,” sophomore goalkeeper Jill Flietstra said. “Every Big Ten team is tough, and they always bring something new. They’re always physical, always fast — just hard-nosed soccer. Hopefully we can get it done and set a good tone for these last few weeks of the season.”

Aside from moving up in the standings, a solid weekend would help the Spartans in their hunt for an NCAA Tournament bid — another aspect Saxton admitted he was a bit leery about. Luckily, the overall toughness of the Big Ten will help MSU.

In the latest Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), seven Big Ten teams were in the RPI top 50, with MSU ranked No. 53. Four of MSU’s last five opponents are ranked above them in the RPI, and Saxton believes more wins against quality teams should secure a second-straight NCAA Tournament berth.

“We lost ground, certainly, with the loss to Northwestern (Oct. 18), which is unfortunate,” Saxton said. “But the good news about is that … the Big Ten is actually doing very well in the RPI … so we definitely control our own destiny. If we can even get a win over two of them, it will jack us up for sure.”

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