MSU women’s soccer is searching for its first conference win and with a Saturday night date with Michigan in Ann Arbor, the Spartans will have no problem finding the motivation to capture a Big Ten win.
Following four consecutive nail-biters against quality conference opponents, MSU (6-3-1 overall, 0-3-1 Big Ten) is hungrier than ever to knock off the Wolverines. It will be another challenging game, however, as U-M (7-3 overall, 3-1 Big Ten) has been solid in conference play this year.
“We’re at the point, even with nine games left, we need to get three points when we go into these games and climb the Big Ten standings,” head coach Tom Saxton said. “It starts with Michigan on Saturday and continues from there. It will be a test for us.”
Both teams are working on a similar schedule, as both traveled to the east coast last weekend for games Rutgers and Maryland. U-M defeated Maryland and lost to Rutgers, and MSU tied Maryland and lost to Rutgers.
MSU holds a slight advantage in the rivalry series, with a 11-10-7 all-time record against U-M. The Spartans have dropped the last two games in the series.
Last season, the Wolverines jumped out to a 2-0 lead just fourteen minutes into the game. MSU buckled down defensively after that, holding U-M scoreless for the rest of the contest.
Then-sophomore defender Mary Kathryn Fiebernitz scored in the 78th minute, but the late surge was not enough for MSU, as the Spartans dropped the home game, 2-1.
MSU has improved from last year, but they will have their hands full with a pesky Michigan defense.
“We’re a better team this year and from the film study, they do come with a great deal of pressure,” Saxton said. “It’s going to be staying composed when we have the ball and solving their pressure...we need to score some goals, quite frankly. It’s been a few games. Can we solve a high pressure team and take advantage of the space they leave us elsewhere?”
While the Spartan defense has been stiff, MSU has struggled offensively over the past three games and has failed to score a goal in the last 270 minutes of game time.
“We do a great job defending, but as the game goes on, we need to start creating more offensive opportunities and executing and putting the ball in the back of the net,” redshirt junior defender Mary Kathryn Fiebernitz said.
Redshirt freshman midfielder/forward Ani Sarkisian and sophomore forward Nicky Waldeck lead the Wolverines with four goals apiece. U-M has a young roster and one the top freshman classes in the nation.
MSU redshirt senior goalkeeper Courtney Clem’s 55 saves leads the Big Ten and her .887 save percentage is also tops in the league. As a starter for the Spartans, she has not defeated U-M.
“For me especially, because I’ve been starting in goal and we haven’t beaten them yet, I’d love to get that win,” Clem said.
Like any rivalry game, MSU will take this one personally.
“We are a Michigan native roster for the most part,” Saxton said. “This is the biggest game of the year. They’ll want this game and we’ll want it. We’ll be ready more so than any other game of the year.”
The game will be played at 7 p.m. on Saturday at U-M Soccer Stadium in Ann Arbor.
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