Missing two captains, leaders both on and off the field, Michigan State men’s soccer had holes to fill as they started their season.
With an already young core, it was a toss up as to who would take the helm next to third captain and senior midfielder Michael Pimlott as their two Hermann Trophy watch list players recovered from injury. Emerging from the roster came a redshirt sophomore, eager for his chance to help the team, Alex Shterenberg.
In the past Shterenberg himself was plagued by injury. After redshirting his freshman season, Shterenberg saw only 28 minutes in his first year of gameplay.
This year has been different.
Finally getting his chance to make an impact on the field, Shterenberg has taken his shot and run with it. Literally. Through the first five regular season games, he has played 417 minutes, which is nearly 15 times the amount he played before this season.
Head Coach Damon Rensing is glad to see what Shterenberg has been able to accomplish this year, already stepping up in big ways.
“Alex has stepped up in two categories. He has helped us at left back and has been a good player that way,” Rensing said.
“He has also been a good communicator and emotional leader on the field, too. He’s put everything into it and I’ve been really pleased with how he’s played.”
Through the first three games, including their exhibitions, the Spartans were scoreless. It would be Shterenberg who would finally put the green and white on the board with a penalty kick against Florida Gulf Coast University on Sept. 2. Although he was without a goal in his career at Michigan State, Shterenberg felt like he was the guy who could step up in that crucial moment.
“We spend weeks, days prepping for games like this, moments like this, so we know who the guys are that step up and who are most confident,” Shterenberg said in his post-game interview, after forcing a tie against FGCU.
“And I think the team agrees we have a couple guys that are confident stepping up in these big moments, so in that moment I was one of them. I was happy to take it. I’m confident when I take those moments. I was glad to see it go in the back of the net, get a first goal of the season in. ”
Not only has Shterenberg been a leader with his play, but he has also been a crucial piece for communication. He has become a huge voice for this team that puts an emphasis on leadership.
“Leadership is something we stress a lot, both on and off the field. I think leadership is something that makes a team great and takes a team to the next level, ” Shterenberg said.
“We have a good group of leaders on this team. I like to think I’m one of them. I like to help the team as much as I can, whether it’s screaming at the guys on the field to work harder, play better. We hold a high standard here, so (I’m) just making sure everyone is playing the best they can, to the best of their level and making sure everyone is having fun at the same time.”
Every time Shterenberg takes the field, he tries to raise the level of play for this Spartan team, and with that comes a lot of emotions. Shterenberg says he doesn’t notice how much emotion he plays with during the games and it is just a piece of his game. But the intensity, he says, comes from the passion he has for soccer.
“I do play with a lot of emotion, a lot of people tell me. I don’t notice it personally on the field, but it’s the way I play the game,” Shterenberg said.
"Everyone has a different style of play. Everyone brings different things to the field and that’s the way I play. I’m really into it. I’m always tuned in. I’m very passionate about this game; I’m very passionate about this team, so I think that’s what people see out on the field while I’m there. As much energy as I can bring, that’s what I try to do. So I think that’s where the emotion comes from."
Seizing the opportunity is something that Rensing has seen Shterenberg do this season and gives him a lot of credit for the work he has put in to get into this position to help the team.
“He’s been with our program for two years and really hasn’t seen a ton of minutes, whether it’s been injury or just players ahead of him,” Rensing said.
“He’s waited his time and waited for his opportunity and now he is taking advantage of it. … I’m very happy with what he’s brought to the table.”
Shterenberg’s role is one he has waited and worked a long time to fill. He was given an opportunity and now plans to help the team take control of the moments they get this season.
“I’m always working. Always gotta fight and work to get to where you want to be and when the chance comes, it comes, and you’ve gotta be able to step up in the big moments and take those moments,” Shterenberg said.
“That’s all I try to do when I come on the field. Take advantage of the moment I’m given and help the team as much as I can.”
Shterenberg will continue to be a key player, as this Michigan State team (0-3-2) tries to get back on the right foot and repeat last year’s success, beginning with a home matchup against Western Michigan on Friday, Sept. 20 at 7 p.m.