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Freshmen still adapting with pace, discipline of college soccer

October 15, 2013

MSU women’s soccer coach Tom Saxton talks about the contributions that freshman players have made on his team.

Photo by Olivia Dimmer | The State News

Rookies, newcomers, young ones — if this was basketball, ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale might even call them “diaper dandies, baby!” But to most, they’re just freshmen.

They haven’t been on campus for more than a couple months, but a group of freshmen already have been contributing to the MSU women’s soccer team (7-5-2 overall, 1-5-0 Big Ten).

Megan Rafac, Kaylee Phillips, Marisa Oleksiak, Michelle Dear, Emily Paymer, Jessica Kjellstrom and Kaitlin Johnson all represent the freshman class on this year’s women’s team.

“It’s a really different experience playing at the collegiate level,” Dear said. “I’ve had to take it a lot more serious.”

This year’s freshman class of seven girls helps make up the youngest women’s soccer team at MSU in 25 years. This season, the Spartans only have six upperclassmen, the first time since 1988 that the team had that few.

Some, such as Phillips, Oleksiak, Dear and Kjellstrom have already received significant playing time. But being tossed into the mix early in their collegiate career hasn’t come without change.

“It’s much different than club soccer, and it’s a lot more competitive and more physical,” Kjellstrom said. “I was real nervous at first because I thought there was going to be a huge difference, and there was; but once I got here, my nerves went away and I started to get in the swings of things.”

Kjellstrom has received the most minutes, as she has started 13 of the Spartans’ 14 games. She has been a key contributor to the Spartans’ back line, which features junior Nicole Caruso and sophomore Mary Kathryn Fiebernitz.

Both Oleksiak and Dear have also played a key role on MSU’s bench. They have each provided a goal for the offense, including Dear’s clutch goal at the end of the first half of the Eastern Michigan game to turn the momentum and put MSU up 1-0.

“The whole freshman class added to our talent pool,” head coach Tom Saxton said. “Michelle’s just an explosive player, and she’s somebody when you need a little shot in the arm offensively. We’ve thrown her in the game and she’s dangerous … I’m excited to watch them grow in their careers.”

Although they’re young, Saxton said they have already shown bright spots and will continue to learn the speed and physicality of the game as they get more game time.

The Spartans will return to action 4 p.m. Friday afternoon at DeMartin Stadium when they face Purdue (8-5-1, 3-3-0). The Spartans currently sit five points out of being eligible for the Big Ten Tournament.

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