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Spartans begin quest to defend Big Ten Tournament title Thurs.

November 11, 2009

The MSU men’s soccer team’s journey to defend its Big Ten Tournament title begins Thursday.

The Spartans earned the all-important bye in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament last year by winning the regular season crown. But this year, the road to a conference championship will be more difficult — as MSU earned the sixth seed (2-4-0) in the tournament and will play three-seeded Northwestern (3-2-1) in the quarterfinals at 10 a.m. Thursday.

The two teams met just five days ago in Evanston, Ill., with Northwestern winning 1-0 thanks to a goal scored in the fifth minute.

“I don’t think we showed up the first 10 minutes the way we wanted, and it cost us,” MSU head coach Damon Rensing said of the Spartans’ loss in the last game of the regular season. “Our guys are excited to get a little redemption.”

Although the Spartans were disappointed with the loss to Northwestern, it wasn’t the worst thing in the world for the team. If MSU defeats Northwestern, the Spartans will play the winner of second-seeded Penn State and seventh-seeded Michigan, avoiding having to play tournament hosts, and fourth seeded, Indiana in the second round.

MSU lost a closely battled game against Penn State by a score of 1-0 Oct. 4, and the Spartans defeated U-M 2-1 on Oct. 25.

“It was disappointing to lose this past Saturday to Northwestern, but when you look at the big picture, the draw that we got is good for us,” senior defender Tim Granaderos said. “We are confident playing any team, but out of the Big Ten, we wouldn’t mind playing Penn State or Michigan again. Those are games that we did pretty well in.”

But before the Spartans can look ahead to the second round, they have to defeat a dangerous Northwestern team.

“Northwestern is extremely organized and a good team,” junior defender Colin Givens said. “It’s a good matchup between similar styled teams. It’s going to come down to who wants it more come Thursday. We have to look to go at them and take our chances and make sure when we have our chances, we finish them.”

Northwestern striker Matt Eliason leads the conference with 13 goals, including the game-winner against the Spartans on Saturday.

And MSU could be without its starting goalkeeper, as Rensing said junior Avery Steinlage will be a game-time decision Thursday morning.

Steinlage injured his shoulder Nov. 2 and sophomore goalkeeper Jeremy Clark has started the last two games for the Spartans, making 10 saves and allowing three goals, one of which came on a penalty kick.

“We have two very good goalkeepers on this team — that’s a good thing,” Rensing said. “I feel confident with either one we put into the game.”

Rensing is fairly confident the Spartans will receive a bid into the 48-team NCAA Tournament thanks to wins against No. 6 Indiana, No. 15 Loyola Marymount, No. 30 Notre Dame and No. 33 U-M.

“I think our body of work looks pretty good,” Rensing said. “But you’d always like to get at least one more win to let you sleep a little easier at night.”

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