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Column: This season's struggles will help women's soccer team next year

November 4, 2013
	<p>Blalock</p>

Blalock

Derek Blalock is The State News women’s soccer reporter. Reach him at dblalock@statenews.com.

It was a season plagued with injury, offensive inefficiency and inexperience for the MSU women’s soccer team that ended by failing to reach the Big Ten Tournament for the second straight year.

But despite this season’s shortcomings, the Spartans (9-8-2 overall, 3-8 Big Ten) only will lose one senior, Kelsey Mullen, and will have heaps of young talent all across the field that received valuable playing experience.

With just six upperclassmen on this year’s squad — the fewest since 1988, the Spartans got hit early with the injury bug when veteran junior forwards Lisa Vogel and Paige Wester went down with knee injuries in the first weekend of action.

Vogel missed the rest of the season just one year after missing several games last season with a leg injury. Wester missed about five weeks, but made it back in time for the Big Ten schedule to help out offensively.

For the second year in a row, redshirt freshman midfielder Jessica White had to miss several games. She missed the final eight games due to a leg injury just a year after missing all but three matches because of injury.

Mullen also missed her final game in a Spartan uniform because of a knee injury, but was able to come back for 10 minutes.

Despite the injuries, MSU started the season off promising, just like 2012. They went 6-0-2 in their non-conference slate but, after a great showing against Minnesota in late September, struggled with finishing and dropped four straight contests to Big Ten opponents.

In that four-game stretch, the Spartans only managed two goals.

After her career game against Minnesota, where she saved a career-high 12 shots, Spartan junior goalkeeper Courtney Clem started to struggle in the net. Sophomore goalkeeper Gabrielle Gauruder started to challenge her for the starting spot and received four starts in the second half of the season.

Both goalies struggled at times, but the offense struggled to create many opportunities and finished last in the Big Ten in shots, forcing the goalies to face pressure often throughout the game.

Moving into next season, MSU will bring back much more experienced players and have a serious shot to improve and challenge for a Big Ten Tournament berth.

“(There’s) nothing to be ashamed of to get nine wins against the schedule we played against,” head coach Tom Saxton said after losing to Illinois. “We’re just one or two results going the other way from being in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten.”

For next season, veterans such as Vogel, Wester, junior defender/midfielder Nicole Caruso, and junior midfielder Megan Marsack will lead the team.

However, look out for talented rising sophomores, such as Mary Kathryn Fiebernitz, Allyson Krause and Sarah Kovan.

Fiebernitz is a dangerous weapon offensively on headers, as well as a tough competitor who will fight for all 90 minutes.

For Kovan, Saxton praised her saying she could be one of the best midfielders in the Big Ten before she graduates.

Jessica Kjellstrom, a freshman defender, started all but one game for the Spartans, and highlights a current freshman class that features potential offensive threats Marisa Oleksiak and Michelle Dear.

Both Oleksiak and Dear provided a nice spark to the offense off the bench.

Some might consider this season a disappointment, especially for an athletics department that features many nationally-ranked teams.

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However, this team is in a very good spot, if the youth on this team learns from this year. If so, you can expect them to win a couple more of those one or two-goal games, and be in the thick of a tough Big Ten Conference.

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