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Spartans showed guts, character during soccer season

November 30, 2010

Pat Evans

What a season by the MSU men’s soccer team.

Full of ups and downs, the team started with the highest of highs and ended with lowest of lows.

The season opened with an East Coast road trip, where the Spartans — who finished the season 13-7-2 — made a program statement with a 4-3 overtime victory at soccer powerhouse Maryland. The team traveled to Georgetown the next day and suffered a 4-0 whooping to the Hoyas.

The season ended in similar fashion, making a historic run past the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1968. The team’s run looked to be on the verge of even more history, before allowing a tying goal to North Carolina with less than 10 seconds left and eventually losing in penalty kicks.

The season is hard to sum up. Head coach Damon Rensing did it best after the North Carolina loss on Sunday.

“The team really represented the soccer program, Michigan State and the Big Ten,” he said.

The team was full of heart, and it’s unlikely you’d be able to find a better group of guys, or a group that worked harder.

MSU was picked to finish fifth in the Big Ten, which, as it turns out, wasn’t that far off. They finished sixth. But before a huge pile of adversity was slung their way, they were poised to shock the country.

The team started 11-3, and finished the regular season 11-6-1. The final five games of the regular season were played without senior midfielder and captain Jeff Ricondo. And during that winless slide, the team was without a slew of other key players and starters.

Ricondo came back in the NCAA Tournament. With a little more than ten minutes left to play against Butler, he scored the lone goal in the game. That goal showed how special this team — and season — was.

It’s a shame the team couldn’t hold on those last few seconds against the Tar Heels, if only for the seniors.

In the great group of guys, the seniors were the best, leading by example. They made you want to cheer for the team.

Ricondo and fellow captain Spencer Thompson lead the way at midfield, and in personality. Defenders Colin Givens and Jake Fullerton provided steady backline play. When he wasn’t bound by injury, Nosa Iyoha provided consistent play at midfield and defense. And you’d be hard pressed to find a better goalie — let alone nicer and more modest guy — than Avery Steinlage. His play in the NCAA Tournament was outstanding, as it had been his whole career.

Although the seniors will be gone after this season, their spirit will live on. It was the first class to go to the NCAA Tournament all four years, but that streak won’t stop here. Although the injuries were unfortunate, they came at a time that allowed the players to come back in time for the tournament, and allowed the younger players to get valuable experience.

The team will return a solid goaltender in former starter junior Jeremy Clark. The backline will be anchored by last year’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Kevin Cope. The offense will be held down by junior midfielder Cyrus Saydee and junior forwards Rubin Bega, Domenic Barone and Brent Rosendall. Fill in the rest with the versatile junior Mark Barone, freshmen Josh Barens and Wesley Curtis — starters for much of the year — and a slew of other talented players in the program.

The Spartans lose a lot from this historic season. But at the same time, this season prepared the returners for an even more historic run next year.

Pat Evans is a State News sports reporter, he can be reached at evanspa7@msu.edu.

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