Chilly temperatures are blowing in over the banks of the Red Cedar and Michigan State men's soccer is barreling down to the end of their regular season schedule.
On senior day, the Spartans emerged victorious over the Buckeyes 1-0 on an emotionally-charged afternoon.
MSU saw one major change in their starting lineup this afternoon – freshman Lance McGrane took over at goalie for redshirt senior Hunter Morse. After a full 90-minutes of play, he collected his first clean sheet of his Spartan career. His training and Michigan State Head Coach Damon Rensing's gut feeling paid off. Morse did not make it out on the field, the reason unknown.
"(I) learn from the best," McGrane said. "We don't really have 1, 2, 3, 4 starters. It's always next one up, so you learn from each other and bounce off each other. It's constant competition that drives us and keeps us ready."
Throughout the first half, McGrane made his job look easy, collecting three saves off Ohio State's six shots. Around the 37 minute mark, both teams were still looking to get on the board. Ohio State's sophomore midfielder Laurence Wootton was offered a free kick off a foul on MSU senior midfielder Louis Sala, but McGrane was fast and solid.
It was a back and forth battle of fouls, free kicks and corner kicks. At 30 seconds to halftime, MSU senior forward Farai Mutatu attempted to head the ball into the Buckeyes' net.
But, it bounced its return off of Ohio State's goalkeeper Noah Lawrence, resurfaced the battle going on in the box, before being knocked in by MSU sophomore midfielder Vedad Kovac – this was his first recorded goal as a Spartan.
"It was a special moment. I want to thank the guys for all they do (for me). ... They've taught me to work as hard as possible every day. It's what they do and it's contagious," Kovac said postgame.
"Sometimes games come down to a play or two and it was a great little two-person combo on the corner kick and Vedad was ready. What a great time to get your first collegiate goal," Rensing said of his decision to play Kovac up front, rather than out wide. "Vedad's been training really well. If you train well, you get opportunities and he's been really pushing. He's got some good soccer savvy and ... a nose for goals."
The Spartans managed to keep the Buckeyes from scoring completely, ending the afternoon in a 1-0 victory.
While the seniors didn't necessarily get their senior moment on the day, Rensing knows how much this team put into their bizarre four years in East Lansing.
"Very proud of the seniors and this group. They've had to go through a lot if you think about these last four years from being a freshman and being in the College Cup to some injuries and the pandemic," Rensing said. "Going through that all, it's probably not exactly how they pictured their four years would go, but they've created a great culture here. They've given their all to the program and I appreciate everything they've done."
With two more conference matchups before the team enters tournament territory and after topping Ohio State 1-0 this afternoon, things are starting to spin positively as they head towards the postseason.
Currently, RPI Blogspot has MSU listed at No. 30, with chances for an at-large bid for the postseason.
"We've got a chance. Our RPI is very high. I feel good about this team. They've got a good belief. They show up and train and do the right things every day," Rensing said.
The Spartans (6-6-2, 2-2-2 Big Ten) will host Maryland in one final home game on Friday, Oct. 22. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. on the Big Ten Network.
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