Thursday, November 30, 2023

Women's soccer has Big Ten crown in sight

September 23, 2010

Freshman defender Annie Steinlage dribbles the ball between opponents during MSU’s game against Eastern Michigan on Sept. 3 at DeMartin Stadium at Old College Field. MSU beat the Eagles, 4-0.

Photo by Kat Petersen | The State News

The Big Ten held its inaugural women’s soccer season in 1994. It was that season 16 years ago when the MSU women’s soccer team last won the conference title.

Last season, the Spartans were plagued with injuries and ultimately finished sixth with a 4-4-2 conference record.

On Sunday, after fighting through an off-season of rehabilitating their injuries and striving for team chemistry, MSU (5-2-1) feels it is ready to battle with the top teams for the 2010 Big Ten Championship.

“We all know that the Big Ten is a whole new level and it’s going to be a battle each game,” senior midfielder and co-captain Cara Freeman said. “We’re right up there with the rest of them (and) we have been for the past three years. We just need to put all of the pieces together.”

The team seems to be putting the piece in the right places.

Junior forward Laura Heyboer and sophomore Olivia Stander are tied for the Big Ten lead in goals with five, while junior goalkeeper Jill Flietstra hasn’t allowed a goal in any of the Spartans’ victories.

However, head coach Tom Saxton, who has been the head coach at MSU since 1991, said the conference is the best he has ever seen it.

In 2009, Michigan, Illinois and Iowa were among the last place finishers in the conference. This year, those teams are on the other end of the standings.

Illinois (7-1) sits in first place and has allowed just three goals this season. Iowa (7-2) is in third and has scored 22 goals. And Michigan (5-1-2) is in fourth place. The Spartans were predicted to finish fourth in the conference in a preseason poll.

“Never in my career — and I’ve been here since the beginning of the Big Ten in women’s soccer — have I seen the quality across the board,” Saxton said. “I think it’s a wide open race.”

The team believes it should be prepared for the tough Big Ten after one of the hardest nonconference schedules in recent memory, Flietstra said.

“Our nonconference schedule has been pretty tough this year,” she said. “We played some high-quality teams and I think it’s really going to prepare us for the Big Ten, which is a really physical season and any team can go in and win any game.”

The road begins Sunday, as the Spartans travel to take on the 12-time defending Big Ten Champions Penn State. The Nittany Lions are just 2-6-1 this season after being predicted to finish first in a preseason poll.

“(Their record) doesn’t take anything away from this game,” Flietstra said. “We love playing Penn State, they’re one of our big rivals. We always get fired up to play them so it will be a good game.”

Even with the poor start, it’s difficult to underestimate the Nittany Lions, who have dominated the conference for more than a decade.

“We have everything to prove in each Big Ten game, but especially against Penn State, Freeman said.

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