After three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, the No. 24 MSU men’s soccer team looks to improve and make an even deeper push into the postseason in 2010.
The team returns all but one letterwinner, and has more than one senior on the roster for the first time since 2008, when it won the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles.
“We have six or seven seniors this year, so it’s pretty much the same nucleus,” senior midfielder and co-captain Jeff Ricondo said. “That’s definitely going to help us. We won the Big Ten Tournament two years ago, so we all have that underneath our belts.”
There are positives and negatives with having a senior-stocked team, head coach Damon Rensing said.
“The experience should help, but honestly, sometimes seniors try to grip a little too tight and put a lot of pressure on themselves in their last year,” Rensing said.
“We’re going to have to manage that, but if you asked me who I’d rather have: a large group of seniors who might grip it too hard or a young team without experience, I’d say seniors.”
The Spartans impressed onlookers before the season officially began with a tie against Bradley and a win against No. 11 Duke in their exhibition season.
Picked to finish fifth in the conference behind four other preseason top-25 Big Ten teams, MSU hopes to prove the predictions wrong.
Ricondo said he saw many positives from the outcome of the exhibition games.
“The two games went well. Obviously we weren’t going out there to necessarily get the win; we were focusing on tactics and personnel,” he said. “For those two games, we were able to see who works well together, we were able to see where guys are going to fit in. Overall it went really well.”
Playing against Duke, the team that booted them in the second round of the 2009 NCAA Tournament, the Spartans prevailed 1-0 with a strong defensive presence.
“Losing to Duke last year was tough. A lot of us walked off the field knowing we should have won,” senior midfielder and co-captain Spencer Thompson said. “The guys come back and play them again right away and to come away with a win was big.”
Happy with the preseason outcomes, the team is excited to start the season this weekend.
“We grew as a team on and off the field,” Thompson said. “We came in pretty sharp, but it got better from there. It all will play into us having a great season.”
East Coast trip
The 2010 schedule will prove to be a challenging one, as MSU will face several preseason top-25 teams, including last year’s national runner-up Akron.
MSU will start the season with an East Coast swing with stops at No. 6 Maryland and Georgetown this weekend.
The ACC and Big East teams mark just two of the seven conferences MSU will meet in its nonconference schedule.
“These kids come to the MSU program to play the top teams across the country,” Rensing said. “We’re certainly ready and we’ll see right where we are right off the bat.”
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