Fifth-year forward Ava Cook solidified herself in MSU soccer lore after her two goals in a 2-0 win over Maryland qualified the Spartans for the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since 2011.
Just 29 minutes into the match, Cook had delivered a knock-out blow with two quick goals to give the Spartans a dominating lead heading into the half as they went on to hold on to the victory in a muddy night in East Lansing.
"I feel great," Cook said. "That was a huge win for us. I think collectively as a team we all took some strides. We knew we had to come out here and play our best ... We came out here and did what we needed to do and now we're onto Sunday's game against Penn State."
Both teams put up a tough fight throughout the first half. The Spartans put up a total of 11 shots compared to the Terrapins' five. Redshirt junior goalkeeper Lauren Kozal made a total of two saves during the half as well and ended the game with her seventh clean sheet of the season.
"It's obviously a good win for us, 2-0. We kept a clean sheet back there," Kozal said. "I'm feeling really good about the game and hopefully we can continue and get the same result on Sunday."
The Spartans locked into tonight's game with the chance to do something they hadn't done in the last decade.
"There was a lot of focus today and we did a really good job of turning our nerves into good positive energy," Cook said. "Everyone was on and thats what we need and how we know we gotta win. After coming off of those loses, the eyes are on us. What are we gonna do and how are we gonna bounce back? I think we handled it pretty well today."
It was all catalyzed by Cook, whose gritty play was on full display. The mud and rain did not slow her down.
"(Cook) is a special player," Michigan State Head Coach Jeff Hosler said. "(Cook) is really tough, very grounded and always wakes up the next day ready to come back to work."
After two tough losses back-to-back on the road to Michigan and Rutgers that held them back from qualifying earlier, the Spartans made a ruthless comeback as they took home tonight's win.
"Frankly after the Rutgers match, I was so proud of our efforts," Hosler said. "We didn't get the results we wanted, but we played two of the best teams in the country back to back on the road ... That's the first time this season that we lost consecutive matches, and they found a way to be resilient this week and come out and perform well enough to get this result."
The Spartans have made a dramatic turnaround from their play over the last few years under Hosler, who in his first season has the Spartans playing in the postseason.
"The progress has been remarkable going into the last game of the season," Hosler said. "We've got a big challenge ahead of us. Penn State is an incredible side ... and I think we're gonna need more intensity defensively and better organization. I thought we got a little bit loose, especially in the second half today. ... We'll get back to it, but we've got to capitalize better than we did tonight."
The Spartans return to DeMartin Soccer Complex on Sunday at 1 p.m. as they wrap up their season against Penn State and host their annual senior night, where they will be able to honor their seniors without the stress of being able to qualify.
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