The MSU Women’s Soccer team began the journey toward defending its 2022 Big Ten title with a 1-1 draw against Ohio State Sunday.
A 1-0 lead for the Spartans, thanks to the scorching-hot foot of MSU freshman midfielder/forward Bella Najera, was spoiled in the 63rd minute by OSU sophomore defender Sophia Louder, who found the net on a corner set-piece. Similar to MSU’s draw with Dayton last Sunday, the Spartans had the chance to capitalize on a second-half advantage but could not keep their opponent out of the scoring column. It served as another disappointing outcome for a team with championship aspirations.
“When you don’t win games that you’re in a position to win, it’s really hard to win a championship,” MSU Head Women’s Soccer Coach Jeff Hosler said. “For this group, if you’re putting the cart before the horse, they got to be focused and making committed ‘moment’ plays to get results.”
Sunday's match was the first Big Ten opener at home for MSU since 2017. In front of a strong showing at DeMartin Stadium, both teams had excellent looks at the goal early on, and the Spartans struck first.
14 minutes in, Najera picked up right where she left off a week ago, netting a goal off a corner kick and deflection. Senior midfielder Justina Gaynor and senior defender/midfielder Zivana Labovic were credited with the assist.
Sunday was Najera’s third straight outing with a goal, moving her to four on the young season. She’s now tied for the most goals on the team, having scored all four in MSU’s last five games.
“Bella has just been incredibly committed to everything in this process,” Hosler said. “She plays a ton of minutes, we ask her to cover a ton of ground and do a lot of things both from the attacking and defending side of the ball, and when she puts herself in situations in front of goal, she’s quality.”
In the second half, MSU consistently put pressure on the Buckeye defense but could not convert any of its shots into goals. In the 63rd minute, OSU netted one of its own to stay even as Louder headed in the first goal of her young career off a corner kick.
MSU graduate student goalkeeper and Wake Forest transfer Kaitlyn Parks had a busy afternoon, coming away with 9 saves, a few of which were diving rescues.
“KP (Parks) made some really big saves for us and was really composed, had a great presence in the box,” Hosler said.
The Spartans fall to 5-2-2 on the season and 0-0-1 in conference play. Despite being in an early hole in regards to competing for the conference title, the Spartans have plenty of time to recuperate and rebound.
“We have to continue every week, draw up a new system and try to figure out a way to be organized defensively and put the right people in the right spots to give us a chance to win,” Hosler said.
The Spartans travel to Minneapolis for their first conference road test of the season at Minnesota on Thursday, Sept. 21, at 7 p.m.