It has been a remarkable season for Michigan State women's soccer. After winning just one game last season, the Spartans are 10-4-3 under first year Head Coach Jeff Hosler. Their 5-4-1 record in conference play secured a spot in the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since 2011, where they will host the No. 5 seeded Iowa Hawkeyes.
Last Sunday, Michigan State celebrated Senior Day, as the leaders of the team took the field for one last (regular season) home game in the 2021 season.
Fittingly, it was two seniors that appeared on the stat sheet for the lone goal in the 2-1 collapse against Penn State. Senior forward Camryn Evans provided a spark in an uninspired offensive showing for the Spartans as Penn State outshot Michigan State 13-6. Evans cashed in on a header from fifth-year senior Ava Cook to take an early lead.
Although Michigan State left the pitch with a loss Sunday, the message was clear: the seniors have had a profound effect on the program this year — and they have a chance to do even more in the postseason.
“The seniors on this team are just crazy good role models," Evans said. "We all serve a different role and bring different aspects to the team.”
Locker room intangibles are just one aspect of what the seniors have done for the team this season. Cook, a graduate transfer from Grand Valley State University, leads the team in goals and points this season and is also tied for first in assists, first in shots and first in shots on goal. Cook ranks among the conference top ten in a bevy of offensive statistics; second in shots, fourth in shots on goal, sixth in points and eighth in goals.
Statistically, senior defender Samantha White and senior midfielder Abby Gardiner do not stick out quite like Cook — at least offensively. The two lead the team in another important statistic: minutes on the field. Alongside junior goalkeeper Lauren Kozal, they have been deployed consistently in some of the most important moments of games and that "veteran" presence provided by the seniors will be an important part of the team heading in to the postseason.
Cook, White, Gardiner and the other seniors have been given the tall task of leading the program into unfamiliar territory: the Big Ten Tournament.
“We have a young team," Evans said. "The Big Ten Tournament is new to us too, so it’s going to be a learning experience for all of us ... That leadership is going to be important in keeping nerves calm and just getting through the game.”
After a 9-1-3 start to the year, Michigan State will enter the Big Ten Tournament having lost three of its last four, limping through the final month of the Big Ten slate. The Spartans have a chance to keep their season alive this Sunday, as the Hawkeyes travel to DeMartin Stadium for the first round of the tournament.
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