In its previous two games, the MSU women’s soccer team was unable to put a first half-goal on the scoreboard. Needing some confidence, the team attacked its opponent’s goal relentlessly until it put an end to that streak Sunday.
The Spartans (4-2-1) were able to find their stride early and often against Loyola-Chicago, beating the Ramblers 3-0 and scoring two first-half goals Sunday at DeMartin Stadium at Old College Field.
“It was a nice step up,” said MSU head coach Tom Saxton, who was disappointed with the team coming out flat in recent games.
“After the DePaul game Friday night, we were unsatisfied with the way we executed in the final third (part of the field) and I think, for sure, in the first half hour today, we came out and executed about as well as we have offensively (this season).
“We got the ball wide, created chances, got some goals out of it, so I was pleased.”
The Spartans struck early when junior forward Laura Heyboer charged into the box and kicked the ball directly above the goalkeeper’s head and into the top of the net in the 15th minute.
“I was dribbling forward, saw the goalie come out and I looked over and didn’t see any options to pass it for an easier goal,” Heyboer said. “I thought, ‘If I can just hit it as hard as I can, the chances are the keeper’s going to drop it or maybe it will go in.’”
The Spartan bench lined up along the sideline as Heyboer rushed over to celebrate.
“Once a team comes in here and you can bury them with a first goal right away, it can usually knock a team down a little bit,” she said. “Getting that early goal, we really put Loyola on their heels and we came at them with even more energy.”
MSU converted that energy into another score moments later. Freshman defender Kelsey Mullen made a run up the field and found junior midfielder Hannah Peterson in the right side of the box, who then rocketed the ball into the back of the net in the 18th minute.
Saxton said Peterson has gone from a slow start this season to being red-hot in the weekend’s two games.
“She struggled in the heat in Texas and then in the hot days here in Michigan when we came back,” Saxton said. “As the weather started to cool, she started to show her burst and acceleration and she was on fire today.
“She had her best game to date against DePaul and then she took it to another level today.”
After a strong first half, Saxton said he wasn’t as pleased with how the Spartans opened the second half.
“After Friday, we had to say, ‘Are we playing on our best level?’ and we can clearly say coming out of DePaul that we were not,” Saxton said.
“Today as we came into the halftime (leading) 2-0, I said, ‘You’ve got to come out and put this away,’ and yet for 15 minutes in the beginning of the second half, we lollygagged around again. If (Loyola) would have popped one in, we would’ve been in for an unbelievable war.”
When the Spartans came out slow in the second half, sophomore Olivia Stander stepped up and sunk the goal that buried the Ramblers (61st minute). In her five shots, she had taken what basically was the same shot in the first half, but the ball clanked off the post.
“I get the ball a lot on that left side, so I take that shot a lot, and I practice it a lot,” Stander said. “Sometimes it goes off the post, but I try not to do anything different, just look up and try to place it as best I can.”
With Loyola’s 2-5 record heading into Sunday’s contest, Saxton said the win was crucial to his team, which has aspirations of playing in the postseason.
“We need to take care of business at home against whoever comes in here,” Saxton said. “There was pressure on us today because, yes, we needed to win this game against an opponent with that type of record because bad losses are not good when NCAA tournament time comes around.”
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