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MSU women's soccer stunned by eighth-seed Iowa as they crash out of Big Ten Tournament

October 29, 2023
<p>University of Iowa junior forward Kenzie Roling (28) has the ball as Michigan State University senior midfielder Regan Dalton (5) tries to catch up  at DeMartin Soccer Complex on Oct. 29, 2023. </p>

University of Iowa junior forward Kenzie Roling (28) has the ball as Michigan State University senior midfielder Regan Dalton (5) tries to catch up at DeMartin Soccer Complex on Oct. 29, 2023.

Photo by Maya Kolton | The State News

The Michigan State women's soccer team faced Iowa for the second time in seven days, falling to a less familiar result with a score of 2-1. The first-seed Spartans were eliminated from the Big Ten Tournament by a remarkable second-half performance from Iowa. 

Head coach Jeff Hosler made just one change to his lineup: freshman defender Mimi Hallier started on the bench as Hosler gave senior defender Zivana Labovic the nod. 

Iowa came into the match pressing aggressively as they looked to keep the majority of play in the Spartan defensive half. 

After the match, head coach Hosler noted the improved defensive performance from Iowa.

“Their intensity was really hard for us to match,” Hosler said. “From the opening whistle I thought they were the more physical, more aggressive team, especially defensively with their work rate and effort.”

The aggressive approach paid off. In the 10th minute, an Iowa corner kick floated into the Spartan’s 18-yard box. The Spartans struggled to clear the set piece, allowing it to fall to senior midfielder Kelli McGroarty, who fired a shot on target that called on graduate goalkeeper Kaitlyn Parks to produce the save. 

As the match settled, Michigan State began to look like the dominating team, flooding the Iowa 18-yard box consistently. But the Spartans were unable to find the decisive pass that would give them their first shot. 

In the 29th minute, Iowa provided just the second shot of the match for either side. Junior forward Kenzie Roling found herself on the right side of the Spartan 18-yard box, cutting inside onto her left foot before her effort on goal was comfortably caught by Parks. 

The Spartans had their first sight of goal five minutes later. Sophomore midfielder Emerson Sargeant went on a surging run carrying the ball from her own half to the top of the Iowa 18-yard box, but was brought down in the process. The loose ball found the feet of senior midfielder Gabby Mueller whose effort flew high and wide of the Iowa goal. 

In the 41st minute, the Spartans found the back of the net with their first shot on target. Graduate defender Raegan Cox floated a ball towards the Iowa back post into the feet of freshman midfielder Bella Najera, who sliced a pass across the Iowa six-yard box, finding Sargeant at the back post. Sargeant only needed one touch to give the Spartans the lead before the break. 

Najera’s assist marked the 12th goal contribution of her freshman season, something Hosler said he expects of her. 

“She continues to get in some really dangerous spots offensively," Hosler said. "She’s probably our most composed area, whether that’s to score or find somebody else."

Iowa responded almost immediately in the second half. In the 49th minute, a deep cross came into the Spartan box from Iowa, finding the head of McGroarty who rose above her defender to nod home and bring Iowa level. 

The Hawkeyes struck again just moments later when a corner ball dropped into the Spartan box finding McGroarty again. McGroarty won the initial header before freshman midfielder Sofia Bush pounced on the second chance to fire the ball into the back of the net.

The reinvigorated Hawkeyes established themselves as the dominant side in the second half. After taking the lead, Iowa solidified its defense as much as possible, holding the Spartans to zero shots on target in the first 30 minutes of the second half. 

“They did such a great job pressing first balls, getting into positions to collect second balls, they won way more tackles than we did, (and) those are the little things that don’t show up in the stat sheet,” Hosler said. “Their mentality to come out of halftime to take the game to us, I don’t think we responded very well."

In the 78th minute, the Spartans got sight of the goal they were looking for. Following a cross into the Iowa 18-yard box, junior forward Jordyn Wickes headed the ball to the feet of senior midfielder Justina Gaynor, whose first-time volleyed effort flew wide of the goal. 

Desperation began to build for the Spartans in the final ten minutes of the match, as the Iowa 18-yard box was flooded with more and more white shirts. The Spartans got in a number of dangerous spaces, but the Iowa backline remained resilient, not allowing a single shot on target from the Spartans in the final ten minutes of the match. 

Following their elimination from the Big Ten Tournament, MSU will have the chance to right their wrongs at the NCAA Tournament

“We get two weeks to prepare," Hosler said. "We have a whole week to truly focus on ourselves and get better in some areas we clearly need to improve, and then we will find out next Monday who that opponent is. It’s an opportunity at a different time of year to turn inward and really spend the time necessary to make some improvements.”

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