Tom Saxton knows he doesn’t have to say anything to get his MSU women’s soccer team excited for this weekend.
The Spartans host Michigan at 1 p.m. Sunday at DeMartin Stadium at Old College Field and the MSU head coach is right in assuming his players are well aware of how intense the game will be.
“No matter what kind of season either of our teams are having, it’s still a rivalry game, so it’s always everybody bringing all their momentum, all their excitement for this one game because it’s school rivals,” sophomore forward Laura Heyboer said. “As much as we’ve prepared for it, and they probably have, too. It’s just going to be a full-out battle, and I’m very confident in the way our team’s going to come out.”
Sunday will be the 18th meeting between the Spartans (7-1-3 overall, 1-1-1 Big Ten) and Wolverines (5-6-1, 0-1-1). Although U-M leads the series, 8-4-5, the Spartans have the most recent win in the rivalry, a 1-0 victory in 2006.
Between that win and two 1-1 ties the past two seasons, senior midfielder Megan Brown and the three other MSU four-year seniors never have lost to the Wolverines. That fact isn’t lost on Brown, who said she plans on keeping it that way.
“It’s my senior year, so it’s my last chance playing against Michigan and it’s always a really intense battle — that’s the best word for it,” Brown said. “I’m really, really excited. I’ve never lost to them since I’ve been here, so I want to keep that streak going.”
Although the Spartans are viewed as the favorite heading into Sunday because of both their success this season and current 17-game unbeaten streak at DeMartin Stadium, Saxton and the players know none of that matters once the two teams take the field.
The Spartans are coming off a weekend in which they suffered their first loss, a 1-0 heartbreaker to Indiana in which the Hoosiers scored with 21 seconds remaining. And while Saxton said the Spartans finally are beginning to find a smooth midfield rotation — even with the recent loss of senior Lauren Sinacola — MSU still struggled to transition its offense to defense against Indiana and in the first half of a 1-1 tie against Purdue.
As the Purdue game went on, Saxton and Heyboer said the Spartans improved greatly in that aspect, and both have seen continued improvement this week in practice.
“We’re working on that and trying to get forward, so we’ve been moving the ball around a lot better — especially in the second half against Purdue,” Heyboer said. “I think we’re definitely finding our game.”
The Wolverines come to East Lansing in 10th place in the Big Ten — MSU is tied for fourth — but beat Miami and played Northwestern and No. 25 Ohio State tough.
Holly Hein and Amy Klippert lead U-M with three goals each, while Jackie Carron has six assists and is one of three other Wolverines with two goals.
The Wolverines are coached by Greg Ryan, now in his second season at U-M. Saxton labeled Ryan — who spent the three years prior to his U-M job as the head coach of the U.S. women’s national team — as a “master tactician.”
Last season, the Wolverines dropped way back and tried to free up possession from up top. Saxton doesn’t know whether the Wolverines will use that same style on Sunday, but does expect another tough game against U-M.
“They’re selling themselves a little short as far as they’re acting, ‘Oh, we’re not that good this year,’” Saxton said. “They’re a very credible Big Ten team … (and) they’ll have some tactical trick that we’re going to have to adjust to, I’ll tell you that.”
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