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MSU men's soccer continues historic season

December 3, 2013
	<p>Junior midfielder Fatai Alashe, 27, and sophomore goalkeeper Zach Bennett celebrate with the Red Cedar Rowdies on Nov. 24, 2013, after defeating Louisville during the second round of the <span class="caps">NCAA</span> tournament at DeMartin Stadium at Old College Field. The Spartans defeated the Cardinals 1-0 in double overtime. Julia Nagy/The State News</p>

Junior midfielder Fatai Alashe, 27, and sophomore goalkeeper Zach Bennett celebrate with the Red Cedar Rowdies on Nov. 24, 2013, after defeating Louisville during the second round of the NCAA tournament at DeMartin Stadium at Old College Field. The Spartans defeated the Cardinals 1-0 in double overtime. Julia Nagy/The State News

Photo by Julia Nagy | The State News

The MSU men’s soccer team is entering relatively uncharted territory.

For the first time since 1968, the 11th-seeded Spartans are headed to the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight after a 1-0 upset victory against Georgetown on Sunday afternoon.

They take on Notre Dame at 7 p.m. Saturday with a trip to the Final Four on the line.

“It hasn’t been a quick fix in soccer, we’ve just continued to grow a culture and continued to work the right way,” head coach Damon Rensing said. “This has been a 20 year gradual climb. It culminates now in these last four or five years.”

MSU is 22-10-5 all time in the tournament, and are 3-0 in Elite Eight games. They were named co-National Champions in 1967 and 1968.

The resurrection of MSU soccer started when the goalkeeper from the back-to-back National Championship teams, Joe Baum, took the reins as head coach in 1977.

He was named Big Ten Coach of the Year three times, and finished his 32-year coaching career with more than 300 career wins.

Rensing, a former player under Baum, was named coach following the 2008 season, and the program has been progressing every year.

Senior defender Kevin Cope has been a warrior on the back line all season and throughout his five years at MSU. This season, broken ribs and sore joints haven’t slowed him down at all.

Cope is the leader of a team that won’t soon be forgotten in the Spartan record books, and he said they’ve made some monumental waves in the college soccer world.

“It’s huge for the program and it’s huge for me personally,” Cope said. “There are only eight teams that are still practicing, and we’re one of them. It says a lot about where this program started, and where we’re at now, and where we’re going in the future.”

This team almost certainly wouldn’t be in the Elite Eight without Cope, who willingly gives up his body in front of shots for the greater good of the team on a regular basis.

Despite missing a run of games at the beginning of the year, he has anchored the defense that has tied the program record of 13 shutouts, along with junior defender Ryan Keener, senior defender Ryan Thelen and sophomore goalkeeper Zach Bennett.

Rensing said Cope’s existence on the back line resonates throughout the team.

“He just instills a presence back there, and a confidence in our guys that know we’re under some pressure with some very good attackers,” Rensing said.

Notre Dame beat the Spartans 2-0 in the regular season, and the Irish knocked MSU out of the NCAA Tournament in the Sweet 16 a year ago.

For Rensing, the win against Georgetown is another huge step for the program.

“That’s why this win is really a sign … that Michigan State athletics and university is getting behind soccer,” Rensing said. “We’re back on the map from a national level.”

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