As the roars from the Big House in Ann Arbor subside and the highly anticipated football game concludes Saturday night, the seniors on the MSU women’s soccer team begin their battle against Michigan and hope to come away with a win that could define their careers.
The past three seasons, the game between MSU and U-M has ended in a draw. Senior defenders Courtney Shegos, Jennifer Ulmer and Samantha Cook, and senior forwards Cara Freeman, and Paige Burke are in jeopardy of graduating without recording a single win versus their biggest rivals.
“For me, this game is huge,” Shegos said. “Every year we’ve played Michigan, we’ve tied them. We’ve had the chance but have always come out with a tie. For me, I’d love to see us say that, ‘We won, we beat Michigan.’ It’d be a great way to go out my senior year.”
The Spartans (7-3-1 overall, 2-1-0 Big Ten) statistically look better than U-M (5-2-3, 0-1-1) with more goals scored, points, saves and shutouts. However, winning this year’s game will be tough for both teams, MSU head coach Tom Saxton said.
“Over the years, we’ve been in very different positions as to who the favorite was, who was having a great season, who wasn’t and then there’s been years like now, where both teams are doing well,” Saxton said. “It certainly is a game where it just doesn’t matter what the records are or anything like that.”
For the Wolverines, forward Nkem Ezurike is their best offensive weapon with six goals on the season and will try her best to fire shots past Spartans’ junior goalkeeper Jill Flietstra.
Saxton said concentrating on slowing down Michigan’s offense is a must if the team hopes to secure a road victory.
“For us to be successful, it’s going to be what we do in the penalty area, both defensively and offensively,” Saxton said. “They have a much improved offensive team. We’ve got to be able to shut them down when they are in our end.”
The coach said with respect to the other Michigan teams, the girls on both MSU and U-M treat this game like it is the state championship, especially since many of the players have grown up playing together.
Junior forward Laura Heyboer said she has friends on the U-M team, but come Saturday those relationships are always forgotten.
“It’s the same game as before, but now the rivalry steps it up a little bit. There will be a little bit more nerves, a little bit more excitement, especially having the football game this weekend,” Heyboer said. “You know the faces (on the other team), you know each other’s personalities a little bit, but I think that once it comes to game time we’re both so focused on our own game and we put all friendships aside.”
Shegos also said her friendships with the other girls won’t stop her from playing her game how she wants.
“Personally I know three other girls on their team and I’m friends with them on and off the field, but I want to win my battles and don’t want them to succeed,” Shegos said.
All week the coaches have tried to stress to the team that this is just another game, however, as Saturday inches closer Shegos admits it gets harder to view it that way.
“Our coaches like to think of it as just another game,” she said. “But because it is Michigan, it’s a lot bigger than the other teams we’ve played.”
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