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NCAA bid gives Spartans favorable treatment

November 17, 2009

It’s one thing to sneak into the NCAA Tournament.

But it’s completely different to receive a first-round bye and play a home game in the second round.

The MSU men’s soccer team was rewarded for an extremely difficult schedule early this week, as the Spartans earned the No. 14 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.

MSU will face either Duke (12-6-0) or Winthrop (11-5-4) at 1 p.m. Sunday at DeMartin Stadium at Old College Field.

“We are pretty excited,” lone senior and defender Tim Granaderos said. “Finishing up my last year, I just hoped to be in the NCAA Tournament and that’s what we did. We proved ourselves time and time again. We are just so excited and happy for the opportunity.”

It’s MSU’s third straight NCAA Tournament berth and marks the second straight season the Spartans have earned a first-round bye.

Although MSU’s record of 11-7-2 might not scream national contender, the Spartans played some of the best teams in the country this season — facing eight teams that made the 48-team NCAA Tournament field, including four teams that were seeded in the top 10.

“We are tournament-tested,” MSU head coach Damon Rensing said.

“We’ve played some really good teams this season and we will be ready to go on Sunday.”

Although the Spartans struggled in conference play (2-4-0), their nonconference success was key to the tournament birth.

“You have to give credit to our coaching staff for scheduling us and putting us in those positions,” junior goalkeeper Avery Steinlage said.

“We proved to the coaches around the country that we are a good side and that we can compete with anyone at any time.”

The Spartans were banged up entering the Big Ten Tournament and are looking forward to using the first-round bye to heal and come into Sunday’s game with fresh legs.

“That bye in the first round is huge because you get a week to relax and let your muscles heal,” Granaderos said. “Hopefully get some of the guys who have had some injuries back to 100 percent.”

Rensing said he doesn’t expect the extra days off to put the team out of sync.

“If you look at our schedule at the end of the year, I think a week off is welcome,” Rensing said. “We get to rest our legs, get a little healthier and refocus. We’ve got six days now to prepare and we are going to try and use every minute that we can.”

And playing at home won’t hurt the Spartans’ chances of advancing to the round of 16, either.

“With the support of your family and friends and playing in an atmosphere that you know, it’s huge to play at home,” Granaderos said. “Having those southern schools come up and play you in the cold, it’s definitely an advantage.”

The Big Ten is well represented in this year’s tournament. For the second-straight year, five Big Ten teams made it into the dance, four of which were in the top 16.

“The five teams that made it definitely deserve it,” Steinlage said. “Hopefully this year we can prove that we are the best soccer conference in the country.”

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With memories of last year’s heartbreaking season-ending loss to Illinois-Chicago in penalty kicks still resonating on the mind, Granaderos is hoping to end his collegiate soccer career on a high note.

“I just want to go far in the tournament,” Granaderos said. “Making it in is the first step and getting into that championship game is the second step. Hopefully we can follow through and make our print.”

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