Friday, December 8, 2023

Men's soccer prepares for NCAA Tournament

MSU men’s soccer player Kevin Cope and head coach Damon Rensing discuss the team’s selection in the NCAA Tournament.

Photo by Josh Mansour | The State News

Just a day after receiving a Big Ten Tournament championship title, the MSU men’s soccer team (11-9-1 overall, 3-3-0 Big Ten) had to move on from its glory and look ahead to what’s next: an NCAA Tournament.

At an NCAA Selection Show watch party Monday evening, the Spartans anxiously waited as, team by team, games and locations were announced.

Horizon League champion Cleveland State (12-5-3 overall, 2-0-1 conference) will provide MSU with its next challenge, as the Vikings head to Spartan turf at 1 p.m. Thursday at DeMartin Stadium at Old College Field.

“Any team in the NCAA Tournament can win any game,” junior defender Kevin Cope said. “That’s just college soccer; we know that. We’re going to really have to focus these next couple of days to make sure that we give ourselves the best chance to win.”

MSU earned its NCAA berth by claiming the Big Ten Tournament championship and downing Indiana, Penn State and Michigan.

After Michigan stole away MSU’s hopes of a regular-season title, the Spartans responded with an overtime goal in the final game of the Big Ten Tournament on Sunday against the Wolverines to keep its season alive.

“The tournament’s kind of a win or go home, and we’ve been doing that for the last three games,” MSU head coach Damon Rensing said. “Our season could have ended on any of those games. I think there’s a good sense of urgency about them, and yet they play relaxed and they’re having fun out there.”

Rensing said heading forward, the team needs to focus on eliminating late goals.

During the Big Ten Tournament, MSU allowed each of its opponents a goal in the final 10 minutes of the game.

Sophomore forward Adam Montague, who scored a goal in the tournament game against Michigan, said the do-or-die play has given the Spartans a chip on their shoulder, and he hopes to carry that chip over to Thursday.

Cope agreed that the entire team knew what was at stake in the tournament, and he said that shows a lot about the team’s ability.

“It just shows we can play well under pressure,” he said. “Coming into the NCAA Tournament now, that’s going to be an important factor. We now know how to handle that and know that we can handle that, so I think that’s a big advantage for us.”

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