With students return, it's time to focus on MSU fall athletics
As students flock back to campus and incoming freshmen take in the wonders of MSU’s massive landscape, they might hear a rumbling noise coming from Spartan Stadium or Jenison Field House. Just as students return to their dorms and houses, the student athletes embark on a new season of fall sports.
MSU football kicks off their season on Friday, while MSU women’s volleyball, and MSU men’s soccer have already started their respective seasons with impressive wins. Here is a preview of those three major fall sports for the 2016 year.
Mark Dantonio enters his 10th season at the helm of the Spartan football team — a season that has expectations through the roof after being one of the four participants in the College Football Playoff and winning a Big Ten championship.
The accolades for Dantonio and his staff keep mounting. MSU finished in the Top 10 for the third consecutive season and are ranked 12th heading into 2016 according to the AP poll. Dantonio added a fifth season under his belt with 11 wins, something that had not been done in school history before his arrival.
“Make no mistake about it,” Dantonio said. “We are the reigning Big Ten champions and we need to defend that as we move through the process.”
The team lost talent across the board after the winningest senior class moved on to the NFL and elsewhere. However, the Spartans will return key players on both sides of the ball, including team captain Riley Bullough, defensive line bully Malik McDowell, a matchup nightmare at tight end in Josiah Price and the running back trio of LJ Scott, Gerald Holmes and Madre London.
Defensively, the team gets a boost in the return of injured starters Ed Davis, who is expected to slot in at the SAM linebacker position, and Vayante Copeland, who will be one of the Spartans top cover corners after missing all but two games in 2015 with a neck injury.
Overall, the weight of how far this team goes could very well fall upon the shoulders — or arm — of senior quarterback Tyler O’Connor. O’Connor managed the offense well in place of the graduated Connor Cook against Ohio State University last year, and out-dueled junior quarterback Damion Terry in the Green and White spring game, converting on 10 of his 16 pass attempts for 138 yards and a touchdown. He ran away with the starting job after a string of impressive spring practices, but all O’Connor wants to do is get back on the field against someone besides his own teammates.
“I’ve never been so anxious for a game so early, the last time I was so anxious for a game it was about 11 o’clock the night before the Ohio State game,” O’Connor said. “I’m very excited. It’s something I have been waiting for a long time and it’s finally here, this week can’t go quick enough.”
The MSU men’s soccer team, led by Damon Rensing in his eighth season as head coach, started off their 2016 campaign with an upset victory over No. 12 ranked SMU in Dallas.
Following that victory, the Spartans stumbled on Sunday, falling to Oral Roberts 2-0.
On the field, the Spartans are filled with young talent, led by sophomore Ryan Sierakowski, who has already amassed one goal with ten shots in only two games. Sierakowski played in all 19 games last season and was the Spartans’ leading scorer last season with seven goals and three assists for 17 points.
“We started six freshmen and sophomores, so we’ve got a good blend of some senior leadership but also some very talented youth,” Rensing said. “Very good combination of the group and now we are looking forward to our first home game.”
Another player coach Rensing has been impressed with is freshman Giuseppe Barone, the fourth member of the Barone family to play at MSU, according to Rensing. He recorded a goal and assist in the Spartans victory over SMU.
“He’s not the biggest or the fastest, but his soccer IQ and his technical ability are very, very good and he does some things in the final third that you can’t teach,” Rensing said. “He’s a very confident player and helped us and will continue to help us in the final third.”
MSU ended the 2015 campaign with an 8-9-2 overall record and a 2-4-2 Big Ten mark. The men’s soccer team was picked to finish sixth in the Big Ten Preseason Coaches Poll.
MSU will play their first home game on Sept. 5 against Columbia.
MSU’s volleyball team already opened their season to a winning tune, sweeping the San Diego State Aztec Invitational. After a 3-0 start, the Spartans will have three more pre-conference tournaments and invitationals, followed by Big Ten play.
The squad is led by head coach Cathy George, who enters her 12th season at MSU. 207-154 overall record at MSU is good for a 60 percent win percentage, but the team has struggled in Big Ten play under her leadership, sitting at 96-124 in that regard.
Nevertheless, the Spartans were into the NCAA tournament again last season, falling in the second round to the No. 1 ranked Washington Huskies. It was the second year in a row that MSU had a tough draw in opening weekend, falling to No. 1 ranked Stanford in the second round in 2014.
The Spartans feature a number of returning players, including spike-killers Chloe Reinig and Alyssa Garvelink. Reinig was named as a preseason All-Big Ten selection in a conference that boasts three teams ranked in the top four nationally. The captain Reinig led MSU with 3.03 kills per set last season, even while missing three weeks of action with an injury. Garvelink was second on the team with 1.04 blocks per set and had 2.33 kills per set and a 27 percent mark.
Rachel Minarick, a fellow captain with Reinig and the Team MVP, as voted by the players at their season-ending banquet, ranked 11th in the Big Ten in assists per set with 9.08, ninth in total assists at 1,083 and third in service aces per set at 0.32. She recorded 11 double-doubles last season, earned an MSU record of three Big Ten Setter of the Week awards, and was a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar.
MSU’s volleyball team will play their first home game on September 3 against Morgan State in the Auto Owners Insurance Spartan Invitational, which also includes No. 10 ranked Florida, who the Spartans will face on September 4 in the tournament’s marquee matchup.