LIVONIA, MI. — Michigan State opened what was supposed to be its first regular-season home game in well ... not home.
Even an hour away from DeMartin Stadium inside the confines of St. Joe Soccer Complex at Schoolcraft College in Livonia, Michigan, the Spartans (1-0-1) looked right at home in a 2-0 victory over Nebraska (0-1-1). The win is the Spartans' first of the season and equalizes their win total in conference play from last year when MSU went 1-9-1 in Big Ten action.
Poetically, it was DeWitt native and senior midfielder Danielle Stephan — who grew up in Michigan State's backyard — that subbed in the 27th minute of the game before soon setting up Miranda Hart for a give-and-go. Hart found the ball just inside the box for a shot into the low-right corner that gave MSU a 1-0 lead in the 43rd minute.
The play, one of Stephan's two assists on the game, set the momentum in MSU's direction for the remainder of the game.
“Just a brilliant soccer play by Danielle," MSU women's soccer head coach Tom Saxton said after the game. "Dani’s got a great soccer mind, she’s a great passer and the way she hesitated for a second and sucked in that defender then just slide it in behind her — credit to Miranda, (this is) Miranda’s first opportunity as a junior to really be part of the game in big moments and for her to have the composure to put that away … that changed the game.”
Despite struggling early in the first half with possessions going mostly Nebraska's way, Spartan goalie Lauren Kozal survived a barrage, facing 10 of the total 14 shots Nebraska sent her way in the first half alone. Only a sophomore, Kozal has been a major key to the Spartans' 1-0-1 start to the year in a 1-1 draw against Maryland and the win over the Cornhuskers. In total, Kozal stopped six shots in the victory that is the Spartan women's soccer team's first in Big Ten play since a 2-0 win over Purdue on Sept. 29, 2019.
“It just feels good to finally be back out on the field," Stephan said after the win. "I’m playing with the girls, you know, (that) I’ve been with for the last four years. And just finally seeing our hard work pay off is refreshing and it feels good. I’m gonna hold on to this feeling.”
MSU was able to take the momentum on the score that closed the first half and carry it over into the second. It was evident early in the second half that MSU would continue the attack as they consistently subbed offensive players on and off for much of the game — keeping pressure on the Cornhusker backline.
From there, MSU survived multiple close-calls as Nebraska nearly scored in the 60th minute on a corner kick that came right in front of the net, before soon answering on a second goal in the 65th minute as Stephans recovered a ball in the attack before sending it to Abby Gardiner, who stuck a shot into the back post for the goal that would ice the game.
“The second goal is definitely a great cushion to have," Stephans said. "But I mean, I credit a lot of that to our defense. They played a helluva game and just not giving up a goal I think was our biggest thing because you know, a 2-1 lead is the most dangerous lead in soccer. (Still) I think it was cool being on the ground and watching that in slow-motion and Abby Gardiner just burying it in the back post (to ice the game).”
Michigan State will play next again at Schoolcraft College in Livonia against Minnesota at 9:30 a.m. on Monday.